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Fishes in a Celestial Sea Complete a Journey Around the Heavens

+ Von Del Chamberlain +

We have reached the end of our exploration of the zodiac; the last in a series of articles began a year ago. We have explored the "circle of beasts," as they have been called, that form a band round the heavens, marking the annual track of the Sun against the background of distant stars. Aries, the Ram; Taurus, the Bull; Gemini, the Twins; Cancer, the Crab; Leo, the Lion; Virgo, the Virgin; Libra, the Scales; Scorpius, the Scorpion; Sagittarius, the Archer; Capricornus, the Sea Goat; Aquarius, the Water Carrier; and now we come to Pisces, the Fishes. These are the twelve, out of eighty-eight constellations covering the sky that mark the journeys of Sun, Moon and planets through the heavens. Because these wanderers travel there, people have seen mystery and mysticism lurking among these stars. In reality they simply happen to be those marking the plane of Earth's orbit extended outward into space. Riders of the Earth, we see the Sun appear to migrate through this zone, and since the objects of the Solar System lie nearly in a flat plane, we find the Moon and planets there as well.

Fisherman at heart, although not a very good one in practice, I like to think of Pisces as the symbol for fishermen everywhere. Those who voyage into the wilderness of waves upon great oceans hunting sea creatures for food, those who venture onto large and tiny lakes, and those who frequent banks of streams with rod in hand. The constellation Pisces, the Fishes, is a worthy effigy in the sky for all who, either for business or pleasure, play with the sleek and slimy runners of waters.

These dim stars were imagined as fishes throughout Persia, Turkey, Syria, Babylonia and Greece. Mythologically the Greeks explained them as resulting from a time when Olympians partied on the shores of the Nile. The approach of the most terrible of the Titans, the giant Typhon, scattered the gods in every direction, each one of them transforming into some creature in order to escape. Aphrodite (Roman Venus) and her son Eros (Roman Cupid) jumped into the river and immediately turned into a pair of fish. Later they were placed in the sky as part of the memory of this momentous, though brief, event.

Pisces was considered one of the rainy constellations, located at one edge of the ancient celestial sea. These stars were thought to control fates of seafarers and were generally regarded as unlucky and fearful, yet they were also an important sacred symbol for the Hebrew people, and for early Christians as well. Indeed, they became associated with the story of Christ feeding fishes to the multitude at the time when the twelve constellations of the zodiac became identified with the Twelve Apostles.

Locating the constellation Pisces in the sky is not easy, for these stars are all dim and they occupy a fairly large region basically in the form of a "V." What helps us locate Pisces is the fact that the "Square of Pegasus" has two sides bordered by the fishes. Pegasus, the topic of my last article, is high in the south by 8:00 p.m. Four stars of about the same brightness mark the corners of the square. Pisces is pictured as a pair of fish, one at each end of the "V," connected by a string. The larger fish, consisting of a dim bunch of stars, lies along the east side of the Square, and the smaller fish, also marked by a mass of dim stars, lies under the south side of the Square. The fish-line, running between the pair, is formed by a line of dim stars going off from the smaller fish toward the east horizon, then, at the point of the "V," veering up toward the north where it hooks to the larger fish. Currently, the bright planet Saturn lies along the southern side of the fish-line, helping us locate Pisces in the sky. It will be easier to see these dim stars of Pisces if you wait until the bright Moon is gone from our evening sky.

Pisces marks a very important direction in space, the vernal equinox, located just southeast of the smaller fish. It is in that direction that the Sun is located at the beginning of spring, about March 21. Thus, as we have entered the darker months of the year--November, December and January--it might be good to go outside, look around and find the stars of Pisces, then think ahead of how the Sun will drift along the zodiac, through Scorpius, Sagittarius, Capricornus and Aquarius. Days will rapidly be lengthening then, as the Sun moves into Pisces to issue in brighter, warmer and longer days. For us right now, Pisces can represent the hope of the future that we know will be fulfilled as Earth glides along its orbit, making the Sun seem to move through stars that have, for many centuries, carried images of ancient heroes, creatures, myths and more recent discoveries of science.

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