The Druid Zodiac

[Disclaimer: while I am a linguist, I am not an expert on Celtic languages (ancient or modern), and I cannot vouch for the translations offered below. Most of the information in this article comes from the book The Lost Zodiac of the Druids by Gregory Clouter, and it should be noted that the views in the book are not those entertained by most scholars.]

That the ancient druids practiced astronomy and astrology is beyond doubt. It would be amazing if they did not, since practically all ancient cultures did. But beyond that, their astronomical knowledge is specifically cited by many of the Roman, Greek and Irish authors that describe them; and there are even a few archaeological finds that suggest it.

mistyriver2Primary among these is the Coligny calendar, discovered as little more than a pile of bronze fragments in 1897 — most likely smashed by Roman authorities during the suppression of druidic practice — and painstakingly restored piece by piece. Less than half of the calendar remains, but there is enough to clearly see a beautiful time-keeping system that aligned the sun and moon into a single calendar, and listed dozens of holidays, rituals, celebrations, and the like.

But if Gregory Clouter (The Lost Zodiac of the Druids, 2003) is right, the Gundestrup Cauldron puts the Coligny calendar to shame.

The Cauldron — an intricate silver bowl composed of plates depicting fantastic figures and scenes — has been an object of controversy since it was found in a Danish bog in 1891.  It quite clearly shows gods and motifs associated with Celtic culture, and yet many scholars say that its style and expertise of silver craftsmanship places it firmly in Thrace (near the Black Sea). The figures and scenes on the cauldron are similarly mysterious and controversial. Someone appears to be dipping a hapless victim into a vat — who? Why? Is that antlered Cernunnos sitting there apparently in the lotus position, holding a torc in one hand, and a serpent in the other? It appears that a bust of a goddess is being carted about; who? Why? Is that a unicorn about to be stabbed in the throat by some kind of warrior? Who is that holding a cart’s wheel — and why is only half of the wheel shown?

In other words, the cauldron appears to show a random collection of animals, people, and objects jumbled together for no particular purpose.

Remind you of something?

If Clouter is right, then the cauldron is nothing less than a map of the druidic night sky, and as such is beyond priceless.

Orion, Taurus, and the Big Dog

The plate linked to here shows three great horned animals, each about to be slit in the throat by a warrior. Each of the three warriors has a dog at his feet, and above each great horned animal is some kind of floating cat or something. Clouter identifies the great horned animal as a bull (something most scholars agree with), the warrior with Orion, and the dog as Canis Major. The cat he does not mention, but it is right about where Aries and the Pleiades should be. Compare this image of the modern constellations:

The image on the cauldron is the mirror image of the sky, and repeated three times… but otherwise, to me at least, the match is striking. Particularly interesting is the way the figures are placed, and their relative sizes, matching extremely well what’s in the sky.

Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio/Ophiuchus

And is that Cernunnos there holding that snake? Clouter says yes, and identifies him with Ophiuchus, the shaman/snake charmer in the traditional system. Ophiuchus is a constellation that sits on the path of the planets, but usually is not given an official place in the zodiac of western astrology. Clouter suggests that Scorpio was the tail of the snake held by Cernunnos, making him a gigantic constellation.

Next to Cernunnos on the cauldron is a hound. Clouter suggests this corresponds to Libra (the scales). Interestingly, in the Coligny calendar, the month in which the full moon appears in Libra is called Cutios, the “House of the Hound.”

Next to the hound are two figures like lions, apparently at each other’s throats, locked in battle. Clouter associates these with Virgo and Leo. Note how, even though the cauldron’s rightmost lion is ‘backwards’, its curling tail on the cauldron matches the curling backwards question mark in Leo’s mane.

It must be said that the other figures on this plate don’t match the modern sky at all. Where one would expect to see the Eagle and some other dim constellations, we have a massive stag; and where one would expect to see Hercules and the Herdsman, we have another dog (?), and what appears to the untutored eye to be a Sioux chieftain riding a coelacanth.

Nevertheless, I think the matchup is remarkable, and it becomes all the more remarkable as Clouter piles on the correspondences around the rest of the sky. The great figure dipping the victim into a vat becomes Smertrius, “the immerser”, mapped to Aquarius, the water bearer, and Capricorn becomes the vat; and the horseman next to them becomes Sagittarius (the centaur — a different kind of horseman!). The squarish bust of the goddess on the cart becomes the Great Square of Pegasus. And the person grasping the half-wheel is interpreted as the solar deity (wheel) held fast by Esus, mapped to Cancer grasping Gemini (and yes, Gemini doesn’t look much like a wheel — that’s why the cauldron shows just HALF a wheel…).

Around the Sky

Here, then, is the Lost Druid Zodiac:

  • Bull (Taurus) October / November
  • Sky Wheel (Gemini) November / December
  • Esus (Cancer) December / January
  • Lion I (Leo) January / February
  • Lion II (Virgo) February / March
  • Hound (Libra) March / April
  • Cernunnos (Ophiuchus / Scorpio) April / May
  • Mounted Sky God (Sagittarius) May / June
  • Sacrificial Vat (Capricorn) June / July
  • Smertrius (Aquarius) July / August
  • Chariot (Pisces) August / September
  • Tail of Dog (Aries) September / October

The list begins with Taurus, because the Coligny calendar begins its year with the full moon in the Bull (which occurs in October or November sometime — when the Sun is in Scorpio). In fact, the new moon preceding the full moon in Taurus would be the date of Samhain, the druids’ New Year. For the curious, Samhain this year occurred on Oct. 28.

If you want to know what your Druid “sign” is in this system, you need to know where the moon was when you were born. If we still had a lunar calendar, or a lunar-solar calendar like the one unearthed at Caligny, you would just have to know what month you were born in; but unfortunately our calendar is only solar these days. Feel free to drop me a line with your birth day and year, and I’ll be delighted to look it up for you.

I myself am a Chariot, but I don’t know what that would mean to the ancient druids. Would it have the same watery associations as Pisces? Not on the face of it — although the month when the moon is in the Chariot was called Edrinos, “causes to run”, and running is certainly something that water and chariots both do. Any speculation on what these druidic signs “mean” astrologically has got to be very tenuous, at least when held up to academic scrutiny…

…But in the landscape of my spirit, in the Forest of the Horned God, I will make my own connections. It was only recently that I saw stars in meditation for the first time. Next time my inner eye looks up, I will see what manner of beasts and peoples crawl the heavens there.

druidzodiac

Comments

  1. Absolutely fantastic and interesting! I had been an astronomy major before turning to computers for better job opportunities, and these types of findings and theories are great!
    Thanks for sharing them.

  2. Jeff Lilly says:

    Maebius — isn’t it awesome? I hope it’s true…

    I share your passion for astronomy — I majored in linguistics, but minored in astronomy. I might well have become an astronomer, but got scared away by the math. :-)

  3. The Orion, Taurus, and Big Dog panel certainly seems spot on.

    As for the cat could it be related to the constellation Perseus?

  4. Jeff Lilly says:

    Mahud, certainly the match with Perseus is an excellent one! Clouter suggests that Perseus appears on the base plate of the cauldron, which I did not discuss (since it doesn’t contain any constellations of the zodiac). In Clouter’s view, Perseus is the god Esus on the base plate. However, the marked half-crouch of Esus on this plate seems to me to suggest a correspondence with Cassiopeia instead; and this would free up Perseus to match up with the cat, as you say.

  5. “a Sioux chieftain riding a coelacanth.” Funny stuff. You nearly made me shoot juice out of my nose!

    Question: What does Clouter have to say about the precession of the equinoxes?

    Also, the image of Cernunnos in the lotus position is not unique to the Gundestrup Cauldron. In fact, most ancient images of him show him sitting in this fashion. Here’s an essay with many ancient images of the god in this position. http://www.ceisiwrserith.com/therest/Cernunnos/cernunnospaper.htm

    Great blog you’ve got here, I found you through “Between Old and New Moons”. I’ll be visiting again.

  6. Jeff Lilly says:

    Livia — thanks for the high praise!

    I am aware of Cernunnos’s lotus-sitting habit, but I didn’t feel like I had room to discuss it here. Thanks for the link!

    Clouter doesn’t mention the precession of the equinoxes at all; he was discussing only ancient druid practice, not its application 2000 years later. To my knowledge, there is no evidence that the ancient druids were aware of it. I myself ignore the issue, as most astrologers today do, because that’s what seems to work. That doesn’t mean it would be unimportant for a chart cast in the druidic system, however.

  7. L.Bailie says:

    I always looked straight through the whole Zodiac thing thinking that it was a money spinning gimic.

    Now all of a sudden I’m starting to find all this along with shapes and numbers very intersting, is it an age thing?

    I’m coming 33 on the 25th May and I’m thinking that it is some sort of internal clock ringing… Maybe I’m just a slow starter.

  8. kori thomas says:

    Hello I am interested in finding my druid sign. I was born November 15, 1990…please email or respond and let me know. Thanks!

  9. Very much interested in my druid sign…interested in all forms of astrology and am just beginning to explore this particular faucet of it. My birthday is November 17, 1982. Thank you in advance :)

  10. I wanna know what my sign is? im an aries by birthdate is april 2,1980

  11. Jeff Lilly says:

    Summer, a birthdate of April 2 1980 places your moon in either Libra or Scorpio, making your ‘druid sign’ either the Hound or Cernunnos. If you were born before about 5:30 am, it would be the Hound; otherwise Cernunnos. Thanks! :-)

  12. hello I’m interested to know what my sign is my birthday is feb 24,1985 thank you very much!

  13. Jeff Lilly says:

    Hi Malicka! Your moon is in Aries, so your Druid sign would be what I’ve called the “Tail of the Dog”.

  14. really like your work – my birthday is 12 February 1964
    thank you

  15. Jeff Lilly says:

    Thanks, Anthea! Your moon is in Aquarius, so your Druid sign would be Smertrius, “the immerser”.

  16. This is very intriguing, would definitely be interested in learning more! My birthday is August 22, 197o. My phone will not toy the number zero. I can’t wait to hear from u!

Trackbacks

  1. […] Jeff has written an interesting post over at Druid Journal: The Druid Zodiac. […]

  2. […] Jeff’s post is based on a book by Gregory Clouter titled, Lost Zodiac of the Druids. The author claims that the scenes depicted on the plates of the Gundestrup Cauldron form a mythical narrative that is mapped out in the heavens—by the various anthropomorphic and zoomorphic characters on the cauldron—in the form of constellations. […]

  3. […] silver Gundestrup Cauldron, dated to perhaps 100 BC, which may well show a stylized version of the Druidic Zodiac. And we have the Coligny Calendar, from perhaps 200 AD: a calendar of 60 months, which lined up the […]

Speak Your Mind

*