Hellenismos, otherwise known as Greek Reconstructionist Paganism, is the traditional, polytheistic religion of ancient Greece, reconstructed in and adapted to the modern world. It's a vibrant religion which can draw on a surprising amount of ancient sources. Baring the Aegis blogger Elani Temperance blogs about her experiences within this Tradition.

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Constellation Capricornus: the sea goat

It's due time for another astronomy post, wouldn't you say? Today, I'm picking up the fourth of the constellations in the zodiac: Capricornus. Capricornus is often referred to as 'Capricorn', the latin word for 'horned goat' or 'goat horn', and in ancient Hellas--and even in most modern interpretations--the hybrid is not between human and goat, as one might expect from a culture with satyrs in its mythology, but goat and fish.

 
 
Obviously, Capricornus is a recognized constellation to this day. In fact, Capricornus is one of the oldest recognized constellations which have survived intact to this day; the association of the fish-goat hybrid even dates back to the Middle Bronze Age. The ancient Hellens called it 'Aigokeros' (Αιγόκερως), literally 'goat-horned'. 
 
Because of its age, mythology surrounding the constellation has been muddled quite a bit. Because of that, this post will mostly be an exercise in debunking or expanding upon the stories that surround it. The first Hellenic myth that is associated with the constellation is that of Zeus' wet nurse Amaltheia (Ἀμάλθεια). She was either a goat, a nymph or a Goddess in her own right, most likely a nurturing Goddess imported from Krete, where Rhea delivered Her child (see below). The versions of the myth where She is a goat is the reason She is often linked to Capricornus.

After Zeus' birth, his father Kronos threatened to swallow Him whole, just like He had done with all of Zeus' brothers and sisters. Rhea, Zeus' mother, had gone off to Krete to give birth to Zeus unhindered. Amaltheia helped with the delivery, and when Rhea returned to Kronos with a baby-shaped boulder in a blanket, She left Zeus in Her care.

Amaltheia was, indeed, placed amongst the stars as a reward for Her services, but it wasn't as the Constellation Capricornus, but as the constellation Capra, the group of stars surrounding Capella on the arm  of Auriga, the charioteer. Here, She became tied to a myth that is a lot more gruesome: the myth that Her skin was used to create the sacred Aegis, the shield thus being placed on the arm of the charioteer for protection.

Amaltheia aside, Capricornus is mostly accurately linked to another myth connected to the Titomanchy; the Olympians were in for a rough fight when Zeus led them against the Titans. One of their toughest fights was against the storm-giant Typhôeus (Τυφωευς), a fight so tough, in fact, that the Olympians had to flee from battle. The young Theoi were so scared of the storm-giant, They fled to Egypt, crossing the river Nile in such a hurry that one amongst Them didn't even allow Himself the time to fully change shape so he could cross the river faster. He crossed in the shape of a half-goat, half-fish.

In most modern retellings of the myth, this Theos is identified as Pan, the Arkadian Theos of shepherds and flocks, of mountain wilds, hunting and rustic music. The ancient Hellens, however, distinguished between several Panes (Πανες), daimones, guardian spirits, who are often conflated into Pan in modern times. Besides Pan, the ancient Hellens at least distinguished between Agreus (Αγρευς), a Pan-daimon of hunting and rustic prophecy; Nomios (Νομιος), a Pan-daimon of shepherds and pastures; Phorbas (Φορβας), a Pan-daimon of grazing; the Paneidês (Πανειδης), the twelve sons of the Theos Pan; two Italian-born Pan-daimon--Pan Sybarios (Παν Συβαριος) and Phaunos (Φαυνος)--and Aigipan (Αιγιπαν), the Pan-daimon who helped Zeus in his battles with the storm-giant Typhôeus. It was Aigipan who was placed into the sky as the constellation Capricornus.

There are many versions of this myth, about Aigipan's birth, his connection to Zeus and the acts for which he was eventually placed amongst the stars. All are of relatively late design, but the basics are as follows: Aigipan was either a child of Zeus by a variety of mothers, a child of Almatheia--and thus fed alongside Zeus--or the father of Pan. In all versions of the myth, he stood alongside Zeus during the Titan war. Some versions of the myth say that Aigipan put panic (panikos) in the hearts of the Titans during the fight and thus gave Zeus such an edge, He won the war.

Other myths say that after the Titans were defeated, the Theoi thought They had won. Yet, there was one who sought revenge for the defeat of his father: Typhôeus, the most-feared son of Tartaros and Gaea. He came for Zeus, when all Theoi had gathered in Egypt, and the Theoi fled. Impressed by Aigipan's shrewdness in escaping over the river Nile as a sea-goat, Zeus rewarded him by placing him in the sky. In other versions, Typhôeus got a hold of Zeus and in the battle that followed, he ripped Zeus apart limb for limb. He hid the sinews of Zeus's arm or entire body away, but Aigipan got them back for Him, alongside Hermes.

In the last version of the myth, Zeus preemptively goes after Typhôeus, who is hiding in a cave by the sea. He commands Aigipan to lure him out, which Aigipan does in the form of the sea goat. Zeus then brings down a thunderbolt so powerful, it vanquishes Typhôeus and allows Zeus to lock him into Tartaros.

Whatever the case, Aigipan is most likely the Hellenic mythological source of the shape Capricornus has gotten, although Capricornus is also rumored to be an entrance into the Underworld. To find out for yourself, you might have to wait a while. This dim constellation is visible at latitudes between +60° and −90°, and best visible at 21:00 (9 p.m.) during the month of September.
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Elani Temperance is a twenty-seven year old woman, who lives with her partner in The Netherlands. She has been Pagan for a little over twelve years and has explored Neo-Wicca, Technopaganism, Hedge Witchery and Eclectic Religious Witchcraft before progressing to Hellenismos. Although her home practice is fully Hellenic, she has an online Neo-Pagan magazine called 'Little Witch magazine' (www.littlewitchmagazine.com) in which she and several co-writers try to cover the whole gamut of Neo-Paganism. Baring the Aegis is also on Facebook: www.facebook.com/BaringTheAegis

Comments

  • Peter Beckley
    Peter Beckley Thursday, 10 January 2013

    Always love your posts, Elani! Thanks for making them so informative and horizon-expanding.

  • Elani Temperance
    Elani Temperance Thursday, 10 January 2013

    High praise, coming from you :)
    Thank you very much!

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