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11. Michael in Art: Which Constellation?

Updated: Sep 2, 2020

Iinitial B with Archangel Michael Master of the St. George Codex (Siena) -, Wikimedia Commons

What can the history of art tells us about the Archangel Michael? Understanding the history of what the Archangel Michael has meant to people over the centuries can shed light on the predecessor of this angel, in the pre-Christian world. In North-West Europe, there is a link between sites dedicated to Saint Michael (be they Celtic Christian or Norman in origin) with Stonehenge: sunrise on Michaelmas morning at Skellig Michael points precisely to Stonehenge. Sunrise on a day when darkness and light are in Phi ratio with each other at Saint Michaels Mount points precisely to Stonehenge. Saint Michael's Mount and the Mont Saint-Michel are located at exactly the same distance from Stonehenge. Why is this? What deities were around at the time of Stonehenge? Can a study of the Archangel in art shed any light on a system of beliefs that somehow lay behind the geographical, astronomical, geodectic and geometrical system that I believe links Stonehenge to sites such as Skellig Michael, St Michael's Mount, the Mont Saint-Michel, and other sites around northern Europe? What constellations can be seen in the conventional ways of presenting the Archangel in paintings and statues? Can ancient pre-Christian beliefs be extrapolated from the various representations of the Archangel Michael?

Because Christianity was mostly imposed by force on people over the centuries, the various forms of Christianity that took root must have been infused with local beliefs which must have persisted in some form, and the remnants of a world wide belief system that prevailed many thousands of years ago. This world wide system shows, to this day, commonalities between religious and mythical figures and artistic depictions from all around the world. I think it is common sense that the divine figures that meant a lot to people before hand would have survived in some shape or form under the guise of their new religion, within the parameters of what was allowed. In particular, in light of the sunrise path connection between Skellig Michael, Saint Michael's Mount, the Mont Saint-Michel, and Stonehenge, and the huge network of sunrise lines linked to Michael all over Europe, I am curious to know what images in art of the archangel can reveal. Was Michael linked to a pre-Christian solar deity? To one or several constellations? To pre-Christian gods from either Europe or beyond?

The Conventions

Artists throughout the centuries seem to have stuck to conventions about how the figure of Michael should be portrayed. You can tell from most of them that the pose and gear assigned to Michael are derived from a constellation, the sword, or lance, sometimes a shield, sometimes weighing scales, and even the wings can be extrapolated from the general shape of one of three constellations. Below is a small selection of images from various epochs, some painted, some sculpted.

Lefthand side folio 106v and righthand side folio 107r from the Book of hours by the Master(s) of Zweder van Culemborg Illuminations on the left folio 106v The full-page miniature shows St. Michael weighing souls in the scales and stabbing the devil Psychostasis, the archangel michael weighing the souls in the scales (and stabbing the devil) (11G1831), Wikimedia Commons

I've found three main conventions. Some paintings and sculptures of the Archangel Michael reflect an Ophiuchus pose, others are more like the constellation Hercules, and others perhaps a little more like Orion. Apart from these three, there are also portraits, showing the face and shoulders only, say.

In the night sky, the constellations Ophiuchus and Hercules are in fact located very close to Scorpio and Libra. Scorpio and Libra are associated with the various elements the Archangel is portrayed with: the dragon or devil, and the weighing scales, respectively. Ophiuchus in fact stands on top of Scorpio. If Ophiuchus is the Archangel Michael, and Scorpio the devil or dragon, this is reflected in some images of the Archangel Michael standing on the dragon or devil. In addition, the constellation Libra, most often seen as a pair of weighing scales, is on the right hand side of the Ophiuchus figure, and this is reflected in depictions of the Archangel, who holds a pair of weighing scales in his left hand, or, to the viewer's eye, to the right.

Hercules, also near Ophiuchus and Scorpio, is a little further away. The constellation Hercules itself is interpreted in different ways. In some interpretations of Hercules, the constellation stands more or less above Ophiuchus and Scorpio, right way up as seen from down on earth, as in H.A. Rey's drawings for example. However, in other understandings, he is upside down, with his foot standing on a great snake closer to the pole star. This great snake is the constellation Draco, a huge dragon or serpent, that could itself be a contender for the dragon or devil that a stellar hero, such as Michael, might want to slay. Sagittarius is another constellation near Scorpio. Sagittarius is an archer, pointing his arrow directly towards Scorpio. However, there aren't very many portrayals of the Archangel reflecting the constellation Sagittarius, though sometimes he is shown with a bow and arrow slung on his shoulder, but never actually pointing an arrow at the dragon or devil, in the way the constellation Sagittarius points his or her arrow to Scorpio in the sky.

So, let's have a look at some art. Below is a small detail in a portal, from a Spanish church. Angel and dragon are facing each other, Michael's front leg is bent, swords raised, his enemy is a dragon with a coiled tail. It is very simple, and doesn't show much detail.

Iglesia de San Martín de Salamanca. Photo by Miguel Hermoso Cuesta, Wikimedia Commons

Below is a very early example of the convention of the angel standing tall above his opponent, winged, and holding a long spear in his right hand, which is being thrust into the mouth of a dragon. In his left hand are an orb and a pair of weighing scales. The dragon's tail is coiled round twice. Michael stands against a background of a starry sky, as if to emphasise his own stellar connection. The orb is not a common accoutrement in later depictions, it seems to be present only in very early portrayals, and Byzantine images. The writer David Warner Mathisen has shown that figures derived from the constellation Ophiuchus almost always hold two items at least, one in each hand. Curiously, in this image, the receptacles on either end of the scales are filled with blue and red liquid of some kind, I'm not sure if this is some sort of alchemical reference.

Incidentally, all the depictions below seem to owe much more to the Michael of Revelation than the Michael of Enoch.

An historiated initial 'T' (of the word temporibus) with Michael the Archangel, who holds the scales to weigh the souls at the Last Judgement and spears a dragon below his feet. From the Passionale (Lives of the Saints), the rubrication notes it is at “the beginning on the life of St Alexius the Confessor, [celebrated on] the 17th calends of July [= 15 June]” – an error? His feast day, 17 July, is actually the 16th calends of August (XVI Kal. Aug.). Anonymous - The British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts, Wikimedia Commons

The image below seems to be in the same vein - sword, wings, weighing scales - but the mood and the energy are completely different.

Saint Michael the Archangel by Cesare Dandini (1596 - 1657), Wikimedia Commons

Most often, the Archangel Michael is young and androgynous. The painting above by Cesare Dandini takes this to a new level, and is probably one of the most provocatively seductive versions of the archangel. You can just about see his wings and weighing scales, and his sword is prominently placed, but the most important part of this painting is his face, the look of disdain and self-awareness. As a good-looking long-haired boy, he is very much like the beautiful god Attis, whose shrines in Italy were replaced with chapels to Saint Michael. Attis, like Adonis, is a god of vegetation.

Statue of a reclining Attis, Wikimedia Commons

There are a couple of poses that are repeated by many artists, such as the one where Michael holds a sword above his head in his right and, and a shield in the left, with bended knee. Is this derived from Hercules, or Orion?

Orion, Ophiuchus and Hercules

Below are three images taken from H.A. Rey's book The Stars: a New Way to See Them (1952), showing the constellations (from left) Ophiuchus, Hercules and Orion.

I have David Warner Mathisen to thank for putting me on to this book. It's quite true, as he points out, many of the constellation outlines and interpretations are really hard to make sense of normally, they seem to have lost all connection with the initial contours of the constellation, which gave rise to the stories and images that have come down to us in, say, ancient Greek art, or Mayan art, and in Medieval art. David Warner Mathisen has made clear the link between the Archangel Michael and the constellation Ophiuchus, for the reason that the archangel holds a spear and a pair of weighing scales, and stands on top of a dragon or the devil, which fits exactly the shape and position in the sky of Ophiuchus. But is there room for considering two other constellations too - namely Hercules and Orion?

So let's have a look at these three constellations. The main difference between the Hercules and Orion poses is that Hercules has bent legs, and Orion only has his left leg slightly bent, and carries a shield.

The constellation Orion features the brightest nebula in the sky and occupying an area twice the diameter of the full Moon, often seen as the middle "star" in the "sword" of Orion, which are the three stars located south of Orion's Belt and has a nebula beneath his belt. Perhaps the sword or sword sheaf which is sometimes shown on the archangel between his legs refers to the Orion nebula. However, according to Wikipedia, the Orion Nebula was not mentioned by some of the main astronomers till the 17th century, for example Ptolomy fails to mention it, and so it is difficult to explain how the nebula might be featured or at least referred to indirectly in paintings that date back to the 15th century. The discovery of the Orion Nebula in modern times is attributed to the French astronomer Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc, on November 26, 1610. It is however visible without a telescope, with the naked eye. The Orion Nebula is an example of a stellar nursery where new stars are being born, and so you could make the comparison between it and an area below the belt of a great warrior or hunting figure as indicative of the hero's virility. The stars of Orion's belt, also known as the Three Kings or Three Sisters, are Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka, and they have been shown to be linked to the pyramids at Giza by Robert Bauval. Orion is most visible in the evening sky from January to March. Wikipedia says that it's not visible in the summer in the Northern Hemisphere, but I often see it in the summer months, in Spain, low on the horizon, yes, but it's there.

The serpent that Ophiuchus holds in this picture is in fact the target of Hercules's aim.

RGB image of the Orion Nebula (M42) and Running Man Nebula (Sh2-279) taken with a 5" apochromatic refractor and a DSLR. Göran Nilsson. Hole Observatory , Wikimedia Commons

The Constellation Orion, Rogelio Bernal Andreo -, Wikimedia Commons

Orion's belt at top left, Orion's sword at bottom right, photo by Jeytas, Wikimedia Commons

The constellation Ophiuchus is a very large constellation around the celestial equator, and the name comes from the Greek for serpent bearer. The most common depiction is of a man holding a gigantic snake in both hands. Ophiuchus is opposite Orion, and is visible only between January and November in the Northern Hemisphere. To the ancient Greeks, the constellation represented the god Apollo struggling with a huge snake that guarded the Oracle of Delphi.

Constellations Ophiuchus, Anguis (Serpens) and Scorpio Jacob de Gheyn II - Hugo Grotius, Wikimedia Commons

Plate 9 from A celestial atlas comprising a systematic display of the heavens in a series of thirty maps illustrated by scientific description of their contents and accompanied by catalogues of the stars and astronomical exercises … Alexander Jamieson - United States Naval Observatory Library, Wikimedia Commons

The constellation Hercules is just above Ophiuchus, next to Draco. The name of the star that makes up Hercules's head is interesting: α Herculis, otherwise known as, Rasalgethi, means "head of the kneeling one". So is this figure kneeling? The story connecting Hercules with the constellation is recounted by Dionysius of Halicarnassus:

"On his way back to Mycenae from Iberia having obtained the Cattle of Geryon as his tenth labour Heracles came to Liguria in North-Western Italy where he engaged in battle with two giants, Albion and Bergion or Dercynus. The opponents were strong; Hercules was in a difficult position so he prayed to his father Zeus for help. With the aegis of Zeus, Heracles won the battle. It was this kneeling position of Heracles when prayed to his father Zeus that gave the name "the Kneeler"."

In Arabic versions, Hercules is upside down. Hercules's left hand points toward Lyra, and his left leg (with θ Herculis as the knee and ι Herculis the foot) is stepping on Draco's head, the dragon or snake he defeats. Sound familiar? Ophiuchus stands on Scorpio's head with his left foot too. However this depiction of Hercules depends on him being upside down, and is completely the opposite of H.A. Rey's version, in which Draco is above Hercules.

There is written evidence of how this constellation was thought of before it became associated with the god Hercules: The earliest Greek references to the constellation do not refer to it as Hercules. Aratus describes it as follows:

"Right there in its [Draco's] orbit wheels a Phantom form, like to a man that strives at a task. That sign no man knows how to read clearly, nor what task he is bent, but men simply call him On His Knees [Ἐγγόνασιν "the Kneeler"]."

So perhaps thousands of years ago, at the time of the earliest structures on the Michael Apollo Artemis axis, this constellation was not seen as a fighter but simply as a kneeler. You can see below that compared to Ophiuchus, Hercules is upside down, so that, in effect, he is stepping on Draco.

The Constellation Hercules, Wikimedia Commons

Draco is a huge constellation, that coils itself around the north Pole, and may be the dragon the dragon who guarded the golden apples of the Hesperides, who was killed by Hercules. However, another dragon, Draco, was killed by the goddess Minerva and tossed into the sky upon his defeat, so it could be him. Is this creature in any way related to the Archangel Michael?

Draco coils around the north celestial pole, as depicted in Urania's Mirror, a set of constellation cards published in London c.1825, Wikimedia Commons

You can see on this image below that it is the centre of the night sky:

Zodiac with Draco inter arcturos, De signis caeli, circa 1050 , Hamburg stamp (Bibliothek Warburg), Dijon, Bibliothèque Municipale,

Four Main Poses

Below are some paintings and statues of the Archangel Michael. There are four main poses

1. Standing on the devil, with or without scales in his left hand, and spear in his right hand which enters the devil's mouth (which corresponds to the brighter Antares, if the devil is to be associated with Scorpio) The constellation Ophiuchus is situated above Scorpio and the constellation Libra, which is often seen a weighing scales, is situated to Ophiuchus's left. So this convention seems to signify an Ophiuchus correlation.

Statue of the Archangel from St Michael's Church in Munich, Wikimedia Commons

San Miguel, by Pedro García de Benavarre, Aragon, Spain

The painter, Pedro García de Benabarre (or Benavarre), who worked for the king of Aragon around 1445 to 1485, is one of the best gothic Iberian painters. Michael is in full suit of armour, carries a lance and a shield, as well as the scales to weigh the souls of the dead, and is standing on a reclining dog headed monster, and seems to be looking towards something or someone on his right. Both are in red and black. The lance is directed towards the devil's mouth. The devil is clutching the ankle of the archangel with one hand, and trying to drag an unfortunate soul down with him from Michael's scales. The general image of Ophiuchus is as a serpent bearer, with an oversized snake carried in both arms. But perhaps here, this pattern of something either side of Michael, Serpens, has become the wings. This is action hero Michael. Below is a similar pose, but without the scales and the lance not directed towards the mouth so that already the stellar connections are disappearing: the star Antares is no longer referred to as the destination of the point of the lance, and the scales, coming from the constellation Libra, are gone. But the pose is similar, the archangel standing directly on the devil, the lance, the elaborate wings.

H.A. Rey points out that technically, Ophiuchus is "two constellations: one the man, the other the SERPENT (SERPENS) in two separate parts: HEAD (CAPUT) and TAIL (CAUDA)." (The Stars, p. 52)

Can you take the man from the serpent, or the serpent from the man? Or can you instead just reinterpret the serpent as the cape and wings?

In the three pictures below, the connection to Ophiuchus seems very clear. And yet, the last one shows hints of a Hercules connection.

San Miguel, from the Retablo de San Miguel​, by Jaume Huguet 1455-1460, Museo Nacional de Arte de Cataluña

St. Michael Vanquishing Satan, by Raphael, 1518. Paris, Louvre Museum. Wikimedia Commons

2. Attacking the devil or dragon with his left hand extended, carrying shield, and right arm raised above his head. A sword or other feature sometimes appears between his legs. If the constellation Orion were behind this pose, then the feature between the legs might correspond to the Orion Nebula, which is situated beneath Orion's belt. However, Orion is not situated above a dragon or snake, but instead near Taurus, so some of the poses below seem to fuse Orion and Ophiuchus conventions, by giving the archangel a sword in his right hand held above his head, and a shield in his left hand, and yet is still standing on a Scorpio-like figure.

In The Stars, H.A. Rey points out that Orion and Scorpio are at opposites ends of the sky and can never meet. "In Greek mythology, Asklepios was originally a mortal physician who never lost a patient by death. This alarmed Hades, god of the Dead, who feared unemployment, and when Asklepios tried to revive Orion, who had been killed by a scorpion, Hades prevailed on his brother Zeus to liquidate Asklepios with a thunderbolt. In recognition of his merits, however, Asklepios was put into the sky as a constellation, together with the scorpion, but far away from Orion to avoid further trouble. Since then, Orion and Scorpion never meet, being on opposite sides of the sky. When you see one, you cannot see the other." p 52, The Stars

If a connection between Michael and Orion could be found, might the same logic apply to an Orion based Michael, in terms of Scorpio. When one is around the other is not, meaning that when Orion is around (or Michael), the devil has been defeated - until the next time.

The picture below seems to show Michael in an Orion pose, with shield arm outstretched, sword sheaf between legs, his left leg slightly bent, and facing his left; and he's not standing on the dragon, as Ophiuchus would, but facing him. However, the dragon, with its seven heads, is linked to Scorpio: the constellation Scorpio can be drawn out with several heads instead of scorpion claws, depending on interpretation. So if Orion is battling with Scorpio, this is taking place across a huge part of the sky, as they are on opposite sides. With the Archangel all in gold, he is a solar figure, so you could imagine the sun victorious over Scorpio as a possible interpretation of a heliacal setting of Antares. The sun, however, does not pass through Orion, though it does go through Ophiuchus - so why is Orion pictured here? Why is Orion doing the attacking and not Ophiuchus, wo after all is situated right next to, and on top of Scorpio, and easily placed to duel with the monster? Is the choice of Orion as the model for the Archangel Michael to do with a pre-Christian legacy, and perhaps Michael channelling an Osiris-like deity?

It's not always easy to think of the way the Archangel Michael is shown in terms of a single constellation. Below, in this golden statue, the sword is stretched up above his head, in a sort of Hercules or Orion way, but in an Ophiuchus on Scorpio way, or Hercules on Hydra, the dragon is being stood upon.

Statue of Saint Michael at the Mont Saint-Michel

And below, the dragon is missing altogether, and the sword is above his head - not very Ophiuchus.

Statue of Saint Michael above the Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome

3. Attacking the devil or dragon in similar pose as above but with his left leg bent, in the manner of Hercules, the famous serpent slayer. This pose is however still very similar to Orion's - which makes all these classifications seem very porous. The stretched out left hand carrying the shield, the slightly bent left leg, these are Orion trade marks, which put together with the raised sword or club, which both Hercules and Orion have, seems to make one constellation merge into the other. When upside down, in non H.A. Rey versions, Hercules is standing on the dragon Draco, and yet here, he is facing the monster. Why?

Left: Hercules and the Hydra by Antonio del Pollaiolo, circa 1475 , Uffizi Galleryand by the same artist, San Michele Archangelo, in San Michele Arcangelo (Museo Bardini a Firenze)

These two paintings are by the same artist. Why did he deliberately re-use the pose he gave Hercules to portray Michael?

The three paintings below all have a similar pose for Michael, sword in right hand and just above his head, pointing towards his left, and with his left leg bent behind him, as if he were jumping off his right foot (in the Raphael painting, it's the opposite leg). There is no sheath between his legs, so it's not Orion - or is it? Two of them hold a shield. The position of the sword varies too: in the first, the sword is pointing at the dragon, and is just above the Archangel's head, cutting through his halo, silver on gold. In the second, the sword is held up high, pointing to sort of two o'clock, same as in the third. But in the second, the sword is pointing towards somewhere behind him, and in the third to somewhere in front of him. The second and third both do the Ophiuchus thing of standing on the devil. Or is it a Hercules thing? After all, Hercules, for all his upside-down-ness, is also standing on a dragon, Draco.

This one below is one of my favourites, from the Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, by the brothers Limbourg. The colours are amazing. Is Michael being Hercules here?

Archangel Michael and Dragon, from the Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, by the Freres Limbourg, Wikimedia Commons

And this one below by Raphael: sword up above the head, one leg stretched out to the back, standing on a dragon with a coiled tail: Hercules on Draco? Raphael, or Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, was an Italian painter and architect from Renaissance Italy, one of the three greats from that period, together with Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.

St Michael and the Dragon between 1503 and 1505 . Paris, Louvre Museum. Wikimedia Commons

This angel is in a similar pose, but the enemy has a human form, and is not threatening.

San Miguel Arcángel by José de Ribera, 1620 - 1630

4. With orb in left hand, with sword in Hercules / Orion pose.

This archangel has the sword in the right hand held up high above his head, and an orb in his left hand, and no lance or weighing scales. It could be Ophiuchus standing on the devil, Scorpio, or it could be Hercules, but with straight legs.

5. All of the above, in Albrecht Dürer's engraving.

The Battles of the Angels, by Albrecht Dürer, Wikimedia Commons

Michael's Battle with the Dragon, by Albrecht Dürer, Wikimedia Commons.

Albrecht Dürer (1471 – 6 April 1528) was one of the most important figures of the Renaissance in Northern Europe. Saint Michael Fighting the Dragon is a woodcut of 1498 by Albrecht Dürer, part of his Apocalypse series, illustrating the Revelation of St. John. "And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven" (Rev. 12:7). Michael is seen here with his angels - why so many? Are they all meant to show the various conventions of depicting Michael? Michael as Orion, Michael as Hercules, Michael as Ophiuchus, and even Michael as Sagittarius.

The Milky Way, pathway for souls

What these paintings often show is the Archangel Michael fighting the devil off the souls of the dead, who are trying to reach heaven. Perhaps even if the balance of the scales is not in your favour, Michael will fight for you and send you up to heaven anyway. At any rate, Michael is seen as a protector of the dead, and a guardian of the way to heaven. This may go back a very long way, further than Christianity or Judaism, or even the Roman gods. Perhaps the most important thing about the constellations Ophiuchus, Hercules, Orion, Sagittarius and Scorpio is this: the Milky Way, our galaxy, that river in the night sky, runs right between them, the path to heaven. Any constellation on it could be seen as a guardian of this highway, seeking to defeat evil and darkness. There was a time when the Milky Way, together with Ophiuchus, Sagittarius, Hercules, Orion and Scorpio, were part of the equinoctial colure, a sort of sky bridge linking East and West, equinox sunrise and sunset. Between around 4,000 and 6,000 BCE, the sun rose and set in the Milky Way. Did the power of the sun charge the defenders of human souls with extra energy?

In approximately 4,500 BCE, around mid April, the sun rose at the very moment that Antares, the brightest star of Scorpio, touched the horizon exactly in the west, under the foot of Ophiuchus, and in the line of fire of Sagittarius’s arrow. It may have seemed as though, by making an entrance, the sun itself had defeated Scorpio, together with the help of the the constellations which constantly harass Scorpio anyway: Ophiuchus, Sagittarius, and Hercules.

This would be quite impressive if you believed in reincarnation, and Scorpio's slayer (be it Sagittarius, Ophiuchus, or Hercules, Orion, or even Virgo) protecting the souls that go up and down the highway to the East and to the West. Similarly, the Archangel Michael is seen as a protector of people and a psychopomp. These constellations would be all the more influential if the Milky Way, which they are all close to, happened to be the equinoctial colure...

It's all very Manichean. The protector of souls and the sun are working together to rid the world of darkness and evil. Imagine the dawn on which Antares goes below the horizon for the last time in a few months, and the sun rises... Sagittarius's arrow points directly at Antares, and Ophiuchus's left foot is just above it, as if about to stamp on it.

The stars are at the root of so many stories and beliefs, and what the stars represent endures, against all odds, over hundreds of years. I think connecting a historical figure with a constellation is not only a way of understanding their power, perhaps as a rebirth of a heroic figure, be it spiritual or physical or military. It's also a way of keeping the story alive, a guarantee of longevity. Who knows, if we had a constellation for Spiderman, he might endure thousands of years. At the moment, his longevity depends only on Hollywood studios and Chinese toy factories.

The fact that the the same myths are to be found in only slightly altered form all around the world shows that they may well have common sources, from a common civilisation, or civilisations with common features because of trade and religion. What’s more, the constellation figures that we know can be used and re-used to fit different people and deities, for example, Ophiuchus can be both Saint Patrick and the Archangel Michael, or Arthur, etc. What this tells us is that deities or spiritual entities which fit within Ophiuchus conventions, such as the Archangel Michael and Saint Patrick, are linked to each other, and are linked to ideas of reincarnation, of souls journeying to and from Earth, of souls being weighed or judged, and of the link between the Milky Way, the sun, and daylight and darkness, and the fighters of evil, symbolised, or incarnated by the constellation Ophiuchus (or Sagittarius, or Hercules, or even Virgo).

 It is as if certain characters drawn out by the stars just won't go away and are able to survive various cultures over time under new names, as new gods or as a saint or an angel. Reincarnation is the order of the day, as much for human souls as for star figures, whose souls are poured into continually new forms, re-indeified. Gods, saints and angels appear as so many local and temporal vessels from millennia old constellation characters, and the stories that go with them. That's not to say there was never a man called Patrick in early Christian Ireland, or a man named Arthur in Roman Britain, merely that the story of their lives was made to walk along a path already well trodden. The myth that followed them also preceded them.

There's a two way process I think: an already existing legend attached to a constellation is identified with a real person, perhaps during their lifetime or just after, who is then remembered as somehow pertaining to that constellation. So the constellation, as a human construct in the sky, gives the person or the god or the archangel its impetus and energy and character, and is in turn enriched by it, re-invigorated by it, changed but strengthened. From this constant play emerges an archetype, which can embody the fundamental characteristics of the mythical or religious figure, as well as the important details of the way they are portrayed. The visual element is very important, and it's thanks to the details of a certain way of standing, who a figure stands next to, and what they hold that we can piece back together the pieces of the jigsaw to see the many phases across time and place of these various archetypes. Not only is this a potentially eternal process, but eternity itself can be illustrated as a serpent biting its tail.

Their stories are linked to certain times of the year because they are part of the solar year, and the movement of the planets and the constellations. What's more, their stories are linked to certain places at certain times of the year, possibly in part because of the latitude of these places. Certain feast days correspond to the perceived behaviour of the sun at a certain latitude. Certain sacred sites correspond to a particular solar event, and are part of a network of sites all bound to each other by the design of people guided by astronomical concerns. Where the sun reveals itself at dawn, and for how long it lingers and provides light that day, determines special points in the calendar year and also determines special places on the planet. The golden ratio appears to define some of these spatial and temporal lines.

Other figures: St Patrick, Saint George, Mithras

Other figures connected with the Michael Apollo Artemis Axis are Mithras, Saint Patrick and Saint George. Mithras is mostly shown killing a bull. In that respect, he is an Orion figure, as the constellation Orion is right next to Taurus in the night sky, and his extended arm points towards Taurus. Also, Orion the hunter is followed by his dog, the constellation Canis Major. One of the conventions of Mithras paintings is the dog attacking the bull. If it can be shown that the Archangel Michael is connected to Mithras - and many mithraeums have been found along side shrines or churches to Saint Michael - then perhaps there is a case to be made for the constellation Orion having some bearing on Michael?

Orion, by H.A. Rey in his book The Stars, A New Way to See Them.

Mithras slaying a bull, with the help of a dog and a snake.

Here, Saint Patrick is shown in quite an Orion-like pose. There are several similarities between the Archangel Michael an Saint Patrick, for example the slaying of the dragon and the banishing of the snakes. Also, there is a legend of Saint Patrick assisting Michael to defeat a dragon on the island of Skellig Michael, in Ireland. And Saint Patrick is the saint which several cathedrals in Ireland are dedicated to, which are in places along sunrise lines where you might expect a shrine to the Archangel Michael. Why has the constellation Orion been used here to give shape to Saint Patrick?

A mosaic of Saint Patrick, in Orion pose, front leg slightly bent and left arm extended. The pascal fire takes the place of the shield. A strange creature takes the place of the constellation Taurus.

Most often, however, Saint Patrick is shown in an Ophiuchus like form, standing, facing us, with a spear or staff in his right hand.

Saint George is another figure with connections to the Archangel Michael: he slays a dragon, usually with an Ophiuchus-like spear, but is on horseback, almost invariably.

Saint George and the Dragon circa 1506 . Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art

In this one, George is more like a Hercules on horse back.

Saint George and the Dragon between 1503 and 1505 . Paris, Louvre Museum, a small work (29 x 21 cm) for the court of Urbino. Wikimedia Commons

The two works above are both by Raphael: he gives his two Saint Georges both the poses he gives his two Archangel Michaels, one with sword above his head, one with spear pointing to the dragon's head and chest area. The main difference between the depictions of Saint George and the Archangel Michael is that George is on horseback.

So what mythical figures does David Warner Mathisen associate the constellations Hercules, Orion and Ophiuchus with? I'm especially puzzled by the potential link between the Archangel Michael and the constellation Hercules, which David Warner Mathisen doesn't go with.


Let's start with Hercules. There are many Hercules derived figures from all around the world, such as Thor, Zeus, David (of Goliath fame), and Medusa. Below are a few that David Warner Mathisen talks about in relation to Hercules.


Here is an Indian figure:

Hanuman fetches the mountain bearing the herb Sanjivini, By Ravi Varma Press - Hanuman fetches the herb-bearing mountain, in a print from the Ravi Varma Press, 1910s, Public Domain,, Wikimedia Commons

There is a story about an incident in his childhood. One morning, Hanuman was hungry and saw the rising red coloured sun. He thought it was edible, a some kind of fruit, and jumped up to try and eat it. Then he was struck by a thunderbolt, and fell to earth. His jaw was broken. In another version, he is burnt to ashes. The gods reassemble him, but his jaw is missing. Lord Shiva grants Hanuman a wish that his body would be as strong as Indra's Vajra. Other gods also grant him wishes, that fire won't harm him, nor water, that he will be as fast as the wind, and that wind cannot harm him. He can go anywhere and cannot be stopped. Also, he is granted a weapon, which is named as "Gada". Hanuman becomes an immortal, with has unique powers and strength. You can see that, either standing, leaping or kneeling, his right leg is always bent in these images. Of course, there are also images of him where this is not the case, but it does seem indicative or a Hercules connection. There is another story about Hanuman, connected to mountains. After a battle, Lakshmana, Rama's brother, was fatally wounded, and a special herb from a mountain in the Himalayas was needed. Hanuman, being faster than the wind, was sent to get it, but he wasn't sure which herb it was, so he brought back the whole mountain.

Numerous 14th-century and later Hanuman images are found in the ruins of the Hindu Vijayanagara EmpireBy G41rn8 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,, Wikimedia Commons

Hanuman finds Sita in the ashoka grove, and shows her Rama's ring, , By MV Sharma printed by Anant Shivaji Desai -, Public Domain,, Wikimedia Commons

Child Hanuman reaches for the Sun thinking it is a fruit by BSP Pratinidhi, By Balasaheb Pant Pratinidhi, Bala Saheb, Bala Sahib, Balasaheeb, Balasahib, Bhavan Rao Śrinivas Panta (author dead before 1952 (April 13, 1951) - see - Chitra Ramayanam, Public Domain,, Wikimedia Commons


Māui Snaring the Sun, pen and ink drawing by Arman Manookian, circa 1927, Honolulu Academy of Arts, By Arman Manookian - Honolulu Academy of Arts, Public Domain,, Wikimdia Commons

Tama-nui-te-rā is a personification of the Sun. In the Māori language, Tama-nui-te-rā means "Great Son of the Sun". The Māori word for "sun" or "day" is rā. Māui decided that the days were too short and caught Tamanuiterā with a snare, then beat him to make him travel more slowly across the sky. According to,

"Te Rā was the main deity of the heavens. During winter he was known as Te Rā-tūoi (the lean sun) and during summer Te Rā-kura (the red sun). Midday was Te Poupoutanga-o-te-rā (the post of the sun) or Te Pou-tū-a-tamanui-te-rā (the standing post of the sun). Dawn and sunset were called Te Tamanui-te-rā-kā (the burning sun). The flight of the sun across the sky was described as Te Manu-i-te-rā (the bird of the sun). Tangotango (blackness of the heavenly night) and Wainui (the ocean) – two children of Ranginui and Papatūānuku – produced offspring: Te Rā (the sun), Te Marama (the moon), Ngā Whetū (the stars) and Te Hinātore (moonlight). The god Tāne took these offspring and placed them in their abodes in the sky."

"The demigod Māui devised a plan to slow the sun. He and his brothers made several strong ropes and journeyed to where the sun rises from the underworld. They built a low wall to hide behind, and laid out their ropes as nooses. When the sun appeared the brothers leapt out from their hiding place, threw the ropes over the sun, and ensnared it. Their quarry securely held, Māui leapt up and beat the sun until it cried for mercy. Today Māori believe that the rays of the sun are the remnants of the ropes used to slow its path."

David Warner Mathisen connects this sun god with the constellation Hercules.


Orpheus surrounded by animals. Ancient Roman floor mosaic, from Palermo, now in the Museo archeologico regionale di Palermo. Picture by Giovanni Dall'Orto, Wikimedia Commons

Next to the constellation Hercules is the constellation Lyra, the harp, and Orpheus is a famous musician. He could charm all living things and even stones with his music, Greeks of the Classical age venerated Orpheus as the greatest of all poets and musicians. It seems he was a real-life person.

David Warner Mathisen also equates Orpheus with the constellation Hercules, at least for part of the story:

"The fact that Eurydice is bitten on the foot by the serpent in the various versions of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice shows that she is almost certainly associated with the constellation Ophiucus. Skeptical readers may object, saying that we might expect snakes, which live on the ground, to bite maidens on the foot, and that this aspect of the story does not necessarily indicate that Eurydice is connected to Ophiucus. This objection is a valid one, and in the book I give some other reasons for suspecting that Eurydice (at least before she descends to the underworld) is associated with Ophiucus in this myth. The strongest argument for an association of Eurydice with Ophiucus (besides the fact that she is always described as being bitten in the foot) is probably the fact that we can see Orpheus himself immediately above, in the celestial figure of Hercules. Hercules often plays the role of a divinely-skilled player of the harp or the lyre -- because the constellation of Lyra the Lyre is located immediately adjacent to Hercules: you can see it in the night sky now, marked by its very bright star Vega.

Of course, once Eurydice descends to the underworld, Orpheus goes down to try to retrieve her -- and when he does so, I believe he moves down to the position of Sagittarius for that part of the story (when he is leading her out of the underworld, with the strict admonition that he must not look back). "

Like Odysseus, whom David Warner Mathisen links to the constellation Orion, Orpheus has to make a journey to the world of the dead, the underworld. This is the case also with Adonis, a Roman god of vegetation who had to spend time with his two wives every year, each in turn. He would visit the underworld to be with his winter wife, and then emerge again to be with his summer wife for two thirds of the year before returning again. In this sense, he is like the sun itself, and very similar to the Maori myth of the sun god who has a summer wife and a winter wife.

Adonis is himself linked to the Roman god Attis, another god of vegetation, impossibly good looking, the son of the Great Mother Cybele. Attis, like the Egyptian Horus, was born after a bit of a difficulty involving his father's penis. In Attis's case, his parent was a daemon called Agdistis who had both male and female attributes. The Olympian gods cut off the penis, and threw it away. Where it landed, an almond tree grew. A young girl, the daughter of a river god, picked an almond, and lay it in her bosom, and became pregnant with Attis.

Attis is relevant here, because some shrines to Michael have been found to have been earlier shrines to Attis, in Italy.


Cadmus was the first king of Thebes, a great Greek hero, a slayer of monsters. When he consulted the oracle at Delphi he was told to follow a cow with a half moon on her back, until she fell exhausted, and to build a city there. This he did, after slaying a water dragon, the guardian of a spring. It seems from various depctions of him that he was associated with the constellation Hercules.

Cadmus fighting the dragon. Side A of a black-figured amphora from Euboea, ca. 560–550 BC, Photo by Bibi Saint-Pol, own work, 2007-05-09, Public Domain,

Here are some links to David Warner Mathisen's videos on the subject:


The deity most closely and famously connected with Orion is of course the Egyptian god Osiris. But there are many others, including the figures derived from the figure of Hamlet, of Shakespeare fame, previously known as Shakespeare's version, he is known as Horvandillus, Horwendil, Orendel, Erentel, Erendel, Oervandill, and Aurvadil.

Here is a quote from David Warner Mathisen's blog:

"The author's of Hamlet's Mill cite Frederick York Powell's (1850 - 1904) introduction to Oliver Elton's translation of Saxo, in which Powell states: "The story of Orwandel (the analogue of Orion the Hunter) must be gathered chiefly from the prose Edda." In other words, Powell noted the linguistic similarity of the name Orwandel (or Orendel) with Orion. This connection supports the theory that the death of Osiris (which parallels that of Hamlet's father) is related to the failure of the constellation to appear on time after many centuries.

Another fascinating aspect of the name of Orion and Orendel is the connection to the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, who was an accomplished Old English scholar. As early as 1913, he wrote that he was struck by the great beauty of the Old English lines in Cynewulf's Christ which begin:

éala éarendel engla beorhtast ofer middangeard monnum sended Hail, Earendel, brightest of angels thou, sent unto men upon this middle-earth! [Hamlet's Mill 355 -- part of an extensive discussion of Orendel in Appendix 2]

Tolkien incorporated the beautiful name Earendil in his Lord of the Rings, as an elven king who carries the morning star on his brow and is the father of Elrond. The light of Earendil's star is in the Phial of Galadriel given to Frodo. In Shelob's lair at the end of the book The Two Towers, Frodo spontaneously shouts an elven phrase containing Earendil's name when he draws out the elven-glass of Galadriel.

Most fans of the Lord of the Rings may not be aware of the connection between Earendil and Orion. Now you know."

Are there any links with the Archangel Michael or any sun god?

Since writing this, I have seen David Warner Mathisen's new video on You Tube, on the character depicted in the Dresden Codex, a Mayan warrior, "depicted in the deep lunge posture that indicates the constellation Hercules".

David shows images of the archangel Michael in what I would call both Ophiuchus and Hercules poses. However, he equates the archangel with Ophiuchus only.

He shows a carving found at the Mayan site of Bonampak, which shows two figures, and the resemblance with the Ophiuchus style Michael spearing the devil in the mouth is astonishing. David makes this link quite clear.


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