Gemini – The Divine Twins

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Deeply integrated within Indo-European (IE) mythology is the importance given to the horse and chariot. In many IE mythologies, including Norse, Baltic, Celtic, Greek, Roman and Vedic, the sun and sometimes the moon are depicted as riders of a celestial chariot across the sky.

Within Indo-European mythology, the divine twins, associated with the constellation Gemini, are often related to horses and solar chariots. Examples include the horse-like Greek Dioscuri who pull the chariot of the sun across the sky, the Baltic Asviniai who represent twin solar horse gods and the similar Vedic Asvins.

Here, a comparative analysis of Indo-European mythology and Sumerian mythology show that the IE concepts of the divine horse twins and solar chariots have a common origin in Sumerian mythology and that these concepts have astronomical significance. By examining the position of horse/chariot and divine twin associated constellations and their position in relation to the sun, moon and planets, we provide a plausible origin for these concepts.

The divine horse twins and solar chariots are an integral aspect of Indo-European mythology. Evidence is presented supporting a common origin of these concepts in Sumerian mythology and that these concepts were passed to later IE cultures. The origin of these concepts in Sumerian mythology is argued to have astronom ical significance as an alignment of divine horse twin and chariot constellations in the ecliptic.

The Sumerians and Gemini: Sumerian Astronomical Interpretations as Origins of the Divine Horse Twins and Solar Chariots in Indo-European Mythology


Gemini


Gemini, which is Latin for twins, is one of the constellations of the zodiac. It was one of the 48 constellations described by the 2nd century AD astronomer Ptolemy and it remains one of the 88 modern constellations today. Its name is Latin for “twins,” and it is associated with the twins Castor and Pollux in Greek mythology. Its symbol is (Unicode ♊).

Gemini is dominated by Castor and Pollux, two bright stars that appear relatively very closely together forming an o shape, encouraging the mythological link between the constellation and twinship. The twin above and to the right (as seem from the Northern Hemisphere) is Castor, whose brightest star is α Gem; it is a second magnitude star and represents Castor’s head.

The twin below and to the left is Pollux, whose brightest star is β Gem (more commonly called Pollux); it is of the first magnitude and represents Pollux’s head. Furthermore, the other stars can be visualized as two parallel lines descending from the two main stars, making it look like two figures. H.A. Rey has suggested an alternative to the traditional visualization that connected the stars of Gemini to show twins holding hands.

The archetype of the Divine Twins has been known from the earliest times, and from civilisations across the globe. It is best documented amongst the peoples of Indo-European origin, particularly in Greece and Rome, and amongst Rome‟s adversaries in western and central Europe.

Gemini has taken on many identifications and meanings through the ages. The earliest forms in documented history can be found amongst the Sumerians and their contemporaries, and can be traced back further into prehistory and so-called mythology in the oral traditions of India and elsewhere.

In Sumerian they were known as Mas.tab.ba gal.gal, translated as the Great Twins, in Akkadian they were known as Masu the Great Twins, and to Greek they were known as Didymoi the Twins. The notion of Divine twins can also be found amongst the peoples of the Americas and Africa. In Chinese astronomy, the stars that correspond to Gemini are located in two areas: the White Tiger of the West and the Vermillion Bird of the South.

The Twins were regarded as minor gods and were called Meshlamtaea and Lugalirra, meaning respectively ‘The One who has arisen from the Underworld’ and the ‘Mighty King’. Both names can be understood as titles of Nergal, the major Babylonian god of plague and pestilence, who was king of the Underworld.

The Divine twins are a mytheme of Proto-Indo-European mythology. Gemini is most commonly understood to represent the twin brothers Castor and Pollux in Greek mythology who were fraternal twins, born of the same mother, but having different fathers. Castor and Pollux are also the names of the alpha and beta stars of the constellation Gemini.

A horse goddess with twin offspring has been reconstructed in Gaulish Epona, a goddess of fertility and a protector of horses, donkeys, and mules, Irish Macha, a goddess of ancient Ireland, associated with war, horses, sovereignty, Welsh Rhiannon, a prominent figure in Welsh mythology strongly associated with horses, and Eddaic Freyja, a goddess associated with love, sexuality, beauty, fertility, gold, seiðr, war, and death.

Freyja plays a part in the events leading to the birth of Sleipnir, the eight-legged horse. In chapter 42, High recounts that, soon after the gods built the hall Valhalla, a builder (unnamed) came to them and offered to build for them in three seasons a fortification so solid that no jötunn would be able to come in over from Midgard.

In exchange, the builder wants Freyja for his bride, and the sun and the moon. After some debate the gods agree, but with added conditions. In time, just as he is about to complete his work, it is revealed that the builder is, in fact, himself a jötunn, and he is killed by Thor.

In the mean time, Loki, in the form of a mare, has been impregnated by the jötunn’s horse, Svaðilfari, and so gives birth to Sleipnir. In support, High quotes the Völuspá stanza that mentions Freyja. In chapter 49, High recalls the funeral of Baldr and says that Freyja attended the funeral and there drover her cat-chariot, the final reference to the goddess in Gylfaginning.

Hengist (or Hengest) and Horsa (or Hors) are figures of Anglo-Saxon legend, which records the two as the Germanic brothers who led the Angle, Saxon, and Jutish armies that conquered the first territories of Britain in the 5th century. Tradition lists Hengist (through his son, whose name varies by source) as the founder of the Kingdom of Kent. Hengest’s name meant “stallion” (in German: Hengst) and points to Slavic Volos and Veles.

Hyginus, as well as Bode’s Uranographia, offers an alternate interpretation of Castor and Pollux as being Apollo and Hercules. The Tarot card associated with Gemini is “The Lovers”, which portrays Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve are thought to have been created at the end of the age of Gemini – the inseparable figures being an allusion to the beginning of mankind.

Castor and Pollux

In Greek and Roman mythology, Gemini was commonly associated with the myth of the fraternal twin brothers Castor and Pollux, or Polydeuces, together known as the Dioskouri, the children of Leda and Argonauts. They were born of the same mother, but having different fathers and were known as the Great Twins.


As with Gilgamesh and Enkidu, a wild man formed from clay and saliva by Aruru, the goddess of creation, and created as Gilgamesh’s peer to rid Gilgamesh of his arrogance and to distract him from oppressing the people of Uruk, Pollux was the divine son of Zeus, who seduced Leda in the guise of a swan, while Castor was the mortal son of Tyndareus, king of Sparta and Leda’s husband.

Though accounts of their birth are varied, Castor and Pollux are sometimes said to have been born from an egg, along with their twin sisters Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra. They are sometimes called the Tyndaridae or Tyndarids, later seen as a reference to their father and stepfather Tyndareus.

When Castor was killed, because he was mortal, Pollux begged his father Zeus to give Castor immortality, and he did, by uniting them together in the heavens. He let him share his own immortality with his twin to keep them together, and they were transformed into the constellation Gemini. The pair was mythologically regarded as the patrons of sailors, to whom they appeared as St. Elmo’s fire in their role as the protectors of sailors, and were also associated with horsemanship.

Gilgamesh is the central character in the Epic of Gilgamesh, the greatest surviving work of early Mesopotamian literature. In the epic his father was Lugalbanda and his mother was Ninsun (whom some call Rimat Ninsun), a goddess.

In Mesopotamian mythology, Gilgamesh is a demigod of superhuman strength who built the city walls of Uruk to defend his people from external threats, and travelled to meet the sage Utnapishtim, who had survived the Great Deluge. He is usually described as two-thirds god and one third man.

In Enkidu’s dream, the gods decide that one of the heroes must die because they killed Humbaba and the Bull of Heaven. Despite the protestations of Shamash, Enkidu is marked for death. Gilgamesh is roaming the wild wearing animal skins, grieving for Enkidu.

Fearful of his own death, he decides to seek Utnapishtim (“the Faraway”), and learn the secret of eternal life. Among the few survivors of the Great Flood, Utnapishtim and his wife are the only humans to have been granted immortality by the gods.

Gilgamesh observes that Utnapishtim seems no different from himself, and asks him how he obtained his immortality. Utnapishtim explains that the gods decided to send a great flood. To save Utnapishtim the god Ea told him to build a boat. He gave him precise dimensions, and it was sealed with pitch and bitumen. His entire family went aboard together with his craftsmen and “all the animals of the field”.

A violent storm then arose which caused the terrified gods to retreat to the heavens. Ishtar lamented the wholesale destruction of humanity, and the other gods wept beside her. The storm lasted six days and nights, after which “all the human beings turned to clay”. Utnapishtim weeps when he sees the destruction. His boat lodges on a mountain, and he releases a dove, a swallow, and a raven. When the raven fails to return, he opens the ark and frees its inhabitants.

Utnapishtim offers a sacrifice to the gods, who smell the sweet savor and gather around. Ishtar vows that just as she will never forget the brilliant necklace that hangs around her neck, she will always remember this time.

When Enlil arrives, angry that there are survivors, she condemns him for instigating the flood. Ea also castigates him for sending a disproportionate punishment. Enlil blesses Utnapishtim and his wife, and rewards them with eternal life. This account matches the flood story that concludes the Epic of Atrahasis.

Gilgamesh crosses a mountain pass at night and encounters a pride of lions. Before sleeping he prays for protection to the moon god Sin. Then, waking from an encouraging dream, he kills the lions and uses their skins for clothing. After a long and perilous journey, Gilgamesh arrives at the twin peaks of Mount Mashu (Ararat, called Masis in Armenian) at the end of the earth.

To the Sumerians, Mashu was a sacred mountain. Its name means “twin” in Akkadian, and thus was it portrayed on Babylonian cylinder seals – a twin-peaked mountain, described by poets as both the seat of the gods, and the underworld. References or allusions to Mt. Mashu are found in three episodes of the Gilgamesh cycle which date between the third and second millennia BC.

He comes across a tunnel, which no man has ever entered, guarded by two terrible scorpion-men. After questioning him and recognizing his semi-divine nature, they allow him to enter it, and he passes under the mountains along the Road of the Sun.

In complete darkness he follows the road for 12 “double hours”, managing to complete the trip before the Sun catches up with him. He arrives at the Garden of the gods, a paradise full of jewel-laden trees.

Various themes, plot elements, and characters in the Epic of Gilgamesh have counterparts in the book of Genesis, notably the accounts of the Garden of Eden and Noah’s Flood. The parallels between the stories of Enkidu/Shamhat and Adam/Eve have been long recognized by scholars.

In the story he is a wild man, raised by animals and ignorant of human society until he is bedded by Shamhat, the name of a female character who appears in the Epic of Gilgamesh where she plays the integral role in of taming the wild man Enkidu who was created by the gods as the rival to the mighty Gilgamesh.

In both, a man is created from the soil by a god, and lives in a natural setting amongst the animals. He is introduced to a woman who tempts him. In both stories the man accepts food from the woman, covers his nakedness, and must leave his former realm, unable to return. The presence of a snake that steals a plant of immortality from the hero later in the epic is another point of similarity.

Andrew R. George submits that the flood myth in Genesis 6–8 matches that in Gilgamesh so closely that “few doubt” that it derives from a Mesopotamian account. What is particularly noticeable is the way the Genesis flood story follows the Gilgamesh flood tale “point by point and in the same order”, even when the story permits other alternatives.

In a 2001 Torah commentary released on behalf of the Conservative Movement of Judaism, rabbinic scholar Robert Wexler stated: “The most likely assumption we can make is that both Genesis and Gilgamesh drew their material from a common tradition about the flood that existed in Mesopotamia. These stories then diverged in the retelling.”

Castor and Pollux are also the names of the alpha and beta stars of the constellation Gemini. They were also mythologically associated with St. Elmo’s fire in their role as the protectors of sailors. When Castor died, because he was mortal, Pollux begged his father Zeus to give Castor immortality, and he did, by uniting them together in the heavens.

Castor and Pollux are consistently associated with horses in art and literature. They are widely depicted as helmeted horsemen carrying spears. The Pseudo-Oppian manuscript depicts the brothers hunting, both on horseback and on foot.

On votive reliefs they are depicted with a variety of symbols representing the concept of twinhood, such as the dokana (two upright pieces of wood connected by two cross-beams), a pair of amphorae, a pair of shields, or a pair of snakes.

They are also often shown wearing felt caps, above which stars may be depicted. They are depicted on metopes from Delphi showing them on the voyage of the Argo and rustling cattle with Idas.

Greek vases regularly show them in the rape of the Leucippides, as Argonauts, in religious ceremonies and at the delivery to Leda of the egg containing Helen. They can be recognized in some vase-paintings by the skull-cap they wear, the pilos, which was already explained in antiquity as the remnants of the egg from which they hatched.

From the fifth century BC onwards, the brothers were revered by the Romans, probably as the result of cultural transmission via the Greek colonies of Magna Graecia in southern Italy. In Latin the twins are also known as the Gemini or Castores.

The Etruscans venerated the twins as Kastur and Pultuce, collectively the tinas cliniiaras, “sons of Tinia,” the Etruscan counterpart of Zeus. They were often portrayed on Etruscan mirrors. As was the fashion in Greece, they could also be portrayed symbolically; one example can be seen in the Tomba del Letto Funebre at Tarquinia where a lectisternium for them is painted. They are symbolised in the painting by the presence of two pointed caps crowned with laurel, referring to the Phrygian caps which they were often depicted as wearing.

The 1st-century BC historian Diodorus Siculus records counterparts of the Dioskouri among the Atlantic Celts: The Celts who dwell along the ocean venerate gods who resemble our Dioskouri above any of the gods, since they have a tradition handed down from ancient times that these gods came among them from the ocean. Moreover, there are on the ocean shore, they say, many names which are derived from the Argonauts and the Dioscuri.

Even after the rise of Christianity, the Dioskouroi continued to be venerated. The fifth-century pope Gelasius I attested to the presence of a “cult of Castores” that the people did not want to abandon. In some instances, the twins appear to have simply been absorbed into a Christian framework; thus fourth-century AD pottery and carvings from North Africa depict the Dioskouroi alongside the Twelve Apostles, the Raising of Lazarus or with Saint Peter.

The church took an ambivalent attitude, rejecting the immortality of the Dioskouroi but seeking to replace them with equivalent Christian pairs. Saints Peter and Paul were thus adopted in place of the Dioskouroi as patrons of travelers, and Saints Cosmas and Damian took over their function as healers. Some have also associated Saints Speusippus, Eleusippus, and Melapsippus with the Dioskouroi.

Indo-European mythology

The heavenly twins appear also in the Indo-European tradition as the effulgent Vedic brother-horsemen the Ashvins, or Ashwini Kumaras (aśvin-, dual aśvinau), in Hindu mythology the divine twin horsemen in the Rigveda, sons of Saranya (daughter of Vishwakarma), a goddess of the clouds and wife of Surya in his form as Vivasvat. In Lithuanian mythology they were known as Ašvieniai, and in the Germanic as Alcis.

The Ashvins symbolise the shining of sunrise and sunset, appearing in the sky before the dawn in a golden chariot, bringing treasures to men and averting misfortune and sickness. They are the doctors of gods and are devas of Ayurvedic medicine.

They are represented as humans with head of a horse. In the epic Mahabharata, King Pandu’s wife Madri is granted a son by each Ashvin and bears the twins Nakula and Sahadeva who, along with the sons of Kunti, are known as the Pandavas.

They are also called Nasatya (dual nāsatyau “kind, helpful”) in the Rigveda; later, Nasatya is the name of one twin, while the other is called Dasra (“enlightened giving”). By popular etymology, the name nāsatya is often incorrectly analysed as na+asatya “not untrue”=”true”.

The Ashvins can be compared with the Dioscuri (the twins Castor and Pollux) of Greek and Roman mythology, and especially to the divine twins Ašvieniai of the ancient Baltic religion.

Analysis of different Indo-European tales indicates the Proto-Indo-Europeans believed there were two progenitors of mankind: Manu, “Man”; Indic Manu and Germanic Mannus, and his twin brother Yemo, “Twin”; Indic Yama and Germanic Ymir.

Cognates of this set of twins appear as the first mortals, or the first gods to die, sometimes becoming the ancestors of everyone and/or king(s) of the dead.

Horse Twins, usually have a name that means ‘horse’ ekwa-, but the names are not always cognate, because there is no lexical set. They are always male and usually have a horse form, or sometimes, one is a horse and the other is a boy. They are brothers of the Sun Maiden or Dawn goddess, sons of the Sky god, continued in Sanskrit Ashvins and Lithuanian Ašvieniai, identical to Latvian Dieva deli.

Other horse twins are: Greek, Dioskouroi (Polydeukes and Kastor); borrowed into Latin as Castor and Pollux; Irish, the twins of Macha; Old English, Hengist and Horsa (both words mean ‘stallion’), and possibly Old Norse Sleipnir, the eight-legged horse born of Loki; Slavic Lel and Polel; possibly Christianized in Albanian as Sts. Flori and Lori.

The horse twins may be based on the morning and evening star (the planet Venus) and they often have stories about them in which they “accompany” the Sun goddess, because of the close orbit of the planet Venus to the sun.

A water or sea god is reconstructed as H2epom Nepots ‘grandson/nephew of waters’ from Avestan and Vedic Apam Napat, and as neptonos from Celtic Nechtan, Etruscan Nethuns, and Latin Neptune.

This god may be related to the Germanic water spirit, the Nix. Similarly, most major Lithuanian rivers begin in ne- (e.g. Nemunas, Neris, Nevėžis). Poseidon fulfills the same role in Greek mythology, but although the etymology of his name is highly arguable, it is certainly not cognate to Apam Napat.

The Sun and Moon are often seen as the twin children of various deities, but in fact the sun and moon were deified several times and are often found in competing forms within the same language.

The usual scheme is that one of these celestial deities is male and the other female, though the exact gender of the Sun or Moon tends to vary among subsequent Indo-European mythologies.

Two of the most common PIE forms are Seh2ul with a genitive form Sh2-en-s, Sun, appears as Sanskrit Surya, Avestan Hvara; Greek Helios, Latin Sol, Germanic Sowilo (Old Norse Sól; Old English Sigel and Sunna, modern English Sun), Lithuanian Saulė, Latvian Saule; Romanian Soare, Albanian Diell.

Meh1not Moon, gives Avestan, Mah; Greek Selene (unrelated), although they also use a form Mene; Latin, Luna, later Diana (unrelated), ON Mani, Old English Mona; Slavic Myesyats; Lithuanian, Meno, or Mėnuo (Mėnulis); Latvian Meness. In Albanian, Hane is the name of Monday, but this is not related.

Peh2uson is reconstructed as a pastoral god, based on the Greek god Pan, the Roman god Faunus and the Fauns, and Vedic Pashupati, and Pushan.

There may have been a set of nature spirits or gods akin to the Greek Satyrs, the Celtic god Cernunnos and the Dusii, Slavic Veles and the Leszi, the Germanic Woodwose, elves and dwarves. There may also have been a female cognate akin to the Greco-Roman nymphs, Slavic vilas, the Huldra of Germanic folklore, and the Hindu Apsaras.

It is also likely that they had three fate goddesses; see the Norns in Norse mythology, Moirai in Greek mythology, Sudjenice of Slavic folklore, Ursitoare in Folklore of Romania and Deivės Valdytojos in Lithuanian mythology.

Celtic religion is also rife with triple goddesses, such as the Gaulish Matrones and the Morrigan of Ireland, and sometimes triplicate gods as well, but they are not always associated with fate.

One recurring element in the divine twin theme is that, while identical, one is divine and the other is human. This points to other characters which partially reflect the mytheme, such as: Krishna and Arjuna, as Nara-Narayana – a dual incarnation of Vishnu, while not twins but cousins, many of the elements are present, Achilles and Patroclus – not twins.

Purusha, the cosmic man, very similar to the gnostic First Man and Son of Man, in the Naassene gnosticism, is a primeval giant that is sacrificed by the gods and from whose body the world is built. He is described as having a thousand heads and a thousand feet. He emanated Viraj, the female creative principle, from which he is reborn in turn after the world was made out of his parts.

Purusha was dismembered by the devas – his mind is the Moon, his eyes are the Sun, and his breath is the wind. This reminds of the dismemberment mythos, for example that of Like Viraj-Shakti to Purusha, so does Isis recompose the body of Osiris in order to have his offspring, Horus, who then is Osiris’ twin.

The Thracian Horseman

The Thracian Horseman, the conventional term for a recurring motif from the iconography of Paleo-Balkanic mythology during the Roman era. The tradition is attested from Thrace to Moesia and Scythia Minor, also known as the “Thracian Heros”, at Odessos (Varna) attested by a Thracian name as Heros Karabazmos, a god of the underworld usually depicted on funeral statues as a horseman slaying a beast with a spear.

Sabazios, the nomadic horseman and sky father god of the Phrygians and Thracians, and the reflex of Indo-European Dyeus, is identified with Heros Karabazmos, the “Thracian horseman”. It seems likely that the migrating Phrygians brought Sabazios with them when they settled in Anatolia in the early first millennium BCE, and that the god’s origins are to be looked for in Macedonia and Thrace.

In Indo-European languages, such as Phrygian, the -zios element in his name derives from dyeus, the common precursor of Latin deus (‘god’) and Greek Zeus. Though the Greeks interpreted Phrygian Sabazios with both Zeus and Dionysus, representations of him, even into Roman times, show him always on horseback, as a nomadic horseman god, wielding his characteristic staff of power.

The recently discovered ancient sanctuary of Perperikon in modern day Bulgaria is believed to be that of Sabazios. The Macedonians were also noted horsemen, horse-breeders and horse-worshippers up to the time of Philip II, whose name signifies “lover of horses”.

Possible early conflict between Sabazios and his followers and the indigenous mother goddess of Phrygia (Cybele) may be reflected in Homer’s brief reference to the youthful feats of Priam, who aided the Phrygians in their battles with Amazons.

An aspect of the compromise religious settlement, similar to the other such mythic adjustments throughout Aegean culture, can be read in the later Phrygian King Gordias’ adoption “with Cybele” of Midas.

One of the native religion’s creatures was the Lunar Bull. Sabazios’ relations with the goddess may be surmised in the way that his horse places a hoof on the head of the bull, in a Roman marble relief at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Though Roman in date, the iconic image appears to be much earlier.

The iconic image of the god or hero on horseback battling the chthonic serpent, on which his horse tramples, appears on Celtic votive columns, and with the coming of Christianity it was easily transformed into the image of Saint George and the Dragon, whose earliest known depictions are from tenth- and eleventh-century Cappadocia and eleventh-century Georgia and Armenia.

He gained a widespread importance especially after the Roman conquest. After Christianity was adopted, the symbolism of Heros continued as representations of Saint George slaying the dragon (compare Uastyrdzhi/Tetri Giorgi in the Caucasus).

It has been part of the syncretism of Romanized people; Cult of Apollo, Christianized people; possible connections with warrior saints, e.g. Saint George and Saint Demetrius.

Astrology

Gemini is the third astrological sign in the Zodiac, originating from the constellation of Gemini. In astrology, Gemini is considered a “masculine”, positive (extrovert) sign. It is also considered an air sign, and is one of four mutable signs. Under the tropical zodiac, the sun transits this sign between May 21 and June 21.

In astrology, a planet’s domicile is the zodiac sign over which it has rulership. The planet said to be ruler of Gemini, or those associated with Gemineans, is Mercury. The term domicile also applies to the House in which a planet rules. Domicile is from the Latin domicilium whose root means house. Mercury has its Domicile in both the 3rd and 6th Houses of one’s natal chart.

There are many variables in the astrology chart that determine compatibility of individuals. The position of the Sun, the Moon, the planets and the aspects they form with each other are assessed by astrologers before judgment on compatibility is made.

The signs listed as compatible with Gemini do not reflect an individual profile or individual reading as interpreted within astrology, but rather reflect a general guideline and reference to compatibility as dictated by variables such as Qualities and Elements within the Zodiac. The branch of astrology dealing with interpersonal compatibilities is called synastry, the branch of astrology that studies relationships by comparing natal horoscopes.

Gemini (astrology)

Gemini (constellation)

Gemini (Chinese astronomy)

Proto-Indo-European religion

The Divine Twins: a preliminary bibliography

Divine twins

Babylonian astronomy

Castor and Pollux

Castor and Pollux

Ashvins

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