Mundane Astrology
The Knepf's Snake-eye

Rosslyn Chapel and the Masonic Legacy
Part 1

A few months ago, myself and astro-historian Rab Wilkie were asked by Jeff Nisbet, a reknowned researcher of hidden Scottish history, if we would comment on relevant astrological topics for an article he was submitting to Atlantis Rising magazine. The piece has subsequently been published in issue #38. Earlier in 2002, Jeff had consulted with Rab and myself over the astrological componenets of an article he would soon publish in Atlantis Rising issue #33 concerning the Battle of Fort McHenry in 1814.

However, my temprament over one particual issue in our current discussion seems to have resulted in a cessation of dialogue, which is unfortuante. So, in deference to Jeff, I would like to post on some of my own findings that were the byproduct of his proddings. This is not meant to preempt or otherwise trump his work (hey, I didn't get published!), but rather to accentuate it. An understanding of the extensive biblical and Masnoic symbolism of Rosslyn behooves any Masonic enthusiast, as this particular ediface was among the richest of its day, and presaged Scotland's golden age of the craft.

Rosslyn Facts and Lore

In his article Secrets of Rosslyn Chapel Unveiled: A Painstaking Investigation Puts the Ancient Enigma in a Dramatic New Light,1 Nisbet makes some assertions, one of which is this:

Rosslyn Chapel was founded upon St. Matthew’s Day, 21 September, 1446, and officially dedicated to that saint on the same day in 1450. Since September 21 marks the Autumnal Equinox, when the sun rises exactly due east of Rosslyn, I decided to see if the Earl had written something in the sky above, that might have reflected the truth he’d been carving on the earth below. I wasn’t disappointed. My previous Atlantis Rising articles propose that an “inner circle” of the Knights Templar escaped the order’s suppression in 1307 France, going “un-derground” in Scotland, while continuing to send what they believed to be “Truth” forward to more enlightened times by secretly hitching rides on both the astrological mythologies of a past they believed to be rooted in “fact” and the astronomical discoveries they knew would be found “when the time was right.”

Nesbit eventually asserts that the Templars had some knowledge of the planet Neptune some four centuries before its discovery -- a claim that is not the focus of this web essay. Instead, I my aim is to offer a more detailed explanation of the astrology surrounding 1446.

The chapel at Rosslyn, Scotland, has been the focus of many recent works of research into the heritage of Freemasonry's symbolism. Tim Wallace-Murphy, Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas, and Graham Hancock are at the forefront of this work, and others have given excellent studies. In comparison, this author is woefully ignorant of much of the finer points surrounding this marvelous shrine, and I am in no way an authority able to make assertions of the veracity of much of the historic claims floating about. Much effort has been given to using Rosslyn as proof of the connection between neo-Templarism and speculative Freemasnory, but those near to the chapel will distance themselves from such arguments. However, as we will see, there are contentions that have not been settled, as we see in the words of Peter Cummings:

This landmark is 9 miles south of Edinburgh, and 2 miles east of  Roslin Village, Scotland. It was built in 1446 by William St. Clair, 11th Baron of Roslyn, Last Earl  of Orkney and 1st Earl of Caithness. Because of its elaborate stone carvings, this often is called a "Bible in Stone."  The most well-known carving is the "Prentice Pillar".  Other carvings depict Templar secrets and the Green Man traditions. 

There is no direct link from the Templars to the clan of "St. Clair," of which we get "Sinclair," who were the wealthy family that funded the construction of the Temple. On the other hand, there are definite links to the posterity of the 15th Century Sinclairs to the 18th Century Sinclairs that were heavily involved in so-called "Ancient" Speculative Freemasonry. James T. Watson, Jr. writes of the Sinclair's Masonic roots:

The founder of the chapel  was Sir William St. Clair (Sinclair), third and last Earl of Orkney.  He lived during the reigns of the Scottish Kings, James I, II and III, who gave to the St. Clair family the office of Hereditary Grand Master of the Order of Freemasonry in Scotland.
   A later William St. Clair was the last to hold that title, and the last man buried in the vaults of the chapel.  A member of Canongate-Kilwinning Lodge #2 and childless, he was instrumental in forming the Grand Lodge of Scotland.  Unanimously elected the first Grand Master by the 32 Lodges meeting in Edinburgh on St. Andrew's Day, November 30, 1736, he was succeeded by the Earl of Cromarty in 1737.  "The Lodge of St. Andrew's of Boston New England," chartered by the Grand Lodge of Scotland on November 30, 1756, continues to meet in Boston.

Sun on fall equinox, 325 AD, with new moon. Figure 1-1  Virgo and Spica as a marker of the autumnal equinox in 325 AD.

Yet, nothing is written about the astrology of Rosslyn, if indeed there is any. We do know that the "foundation stone," which would be called a "cornerstone" in later days, was laid specifically on September 21, 1446 -- St. Matthew's Day in the Christian calendar, and the patron saint to whom the Chapel is dedicated. It should be noted here that this ritual date is prevalent in actions of the Scottish Rite in the USA, and it is familiar as the date that marks the fall equinox, as it did in the early Roman Julian Calendar. As can be seen in the inset graphic, at the time of the Nicene Ecumenical Council in 325 AD, the fixed star Spica -- the Virgin Mary's spike of wheat -- was near to this equinoctical point. In Babylonian astrology, Spica was used as a marker for equinox as well, and Cyril Fagan later proved that Spica was located at 29° of Virgo in the "sidereal zodiac."

The Nature of Virgo and Spica

Nisbet also makes this revealing observation in the same Atlantis Rising article:

Earl William knew that even a book “carved in stone” could be pounded to dust, so he wrote his testament on the inviolable daytime sky, and hid it in the light. In "Rosslyn: Guardian of the Secrets of the Holy Grail", by Tim Wallace-Murphy & Marilyn Hopkins, the au-thors claim that the site had been “re-vered by the Druids as the oracle of Saturn, the supreme Guardian of Secrets.” According to my research, it seems they are right. When Rosslyn was dedicated on September 21, 1450, the sun had risen exactly due east. Throughout the day, behind the sun and in exact alignment with the earth lay the planets Saturn and Neptune, a conjunction that occurs only once every 36 years. And they all rose invisibly in the light of day within the constellation Virgo, symbolic of various goddesses found in diverse astrological traditions.

Spica and Virgo, in an astrological sense, have always been given favorable treatment. Robson2 puts forth the following:

   Influence. ...It gives success, renown, riches, a sweet sisposition, love of art and science, unscrupulousness, unfruitfulness and injustice to innocence.
   If rising or culminating. Unbouinded good fortune, riches, happiness, ecclesiastical preferment, unexpected honour or advancement beyond native's hopes or capacity.
   With Sun. Great and lasting preferment, eminent dignity, immense wealth, great happiness to native's parents and children, help from friends among clergy, favourable for public and legal affairs. If culminating, Church and State preferment. If with Venus and Mars also the native is a potent king obeyed by namy people, but subject to many imfirmities.
   With Moon. Gain through inventions, success, wealth and honour from Mercury, Venus, or Jupiter people.
   With Mercury. Neat, tidy, clever, ingenious, favour of clergy and people in aughority, gain through investment, responsible position.
   With Venus. Benefits from friends, social success, false friends of own sex.
   With Mars. Poular, social success, may have good judgment and quick decision or be violent in dispute, rigid, and nearly or quite a fool.
   With Jupiter. Popular, social success, wealth, ecclesiastical honour and preferment.
   With Saturn. Apt to be suspicious, sharp or fugged, but does much good, occult interests, good speaker, popular, many friends, gain through legacies but extravagant, good health, favourable for domestic matters.
   With Fortuna. Great Wealth, voluptuous propensities.

The constellation of Virgo has symbolized the Virgin Mary since the earliest days of Christianity. Before that time, the constellation was most always associated with a female deity. Gettings says about the Constellation:

"Virtually all the ancient and modern traditions visualize the image of Virgo as a maiden, and a whole string of feminine names have been applied to her, such as 'Persephone' or 'Proserpina' -- but in essence she has been regarded as the archetypal woman, the 'Kore' of the Greeks, the 'Puella' of the Romans, and in the Hindu asterisms as 'Kanya' (maiden): from very early Christian times she has been 'Virgin' or 'Virgin Mary'.... Some of the more important variant names have revolved around the identification of the lucida in the asterism, the SPICA usually visualized as a set in the Virgin's left hand or shoulder, as a child or as a sheaf of corn. The Greek name means 'ear of corn', and this was sometimes adapted by the Christians to the distaff which properly belonged to an heretical Gnostic tradition: later Christians visualized the star as an image of the Child in the arms of the Virgin Mary.... The link between the star and corn was sufficient to establish the entire asterism as the corn-goddess Demeter, from which we have 'Arista' and 'Arista Puella', the 'Maiden of the Wheatfield'. But it was mainly in the image of the celetial mother that Virgo was visualized -- called even 'Astraea' after the starry daughter of Themis: several of the medieval images of the Virgin Mary depict her dress decorated with stars (even with ears of corn) and were doubtless derived from the pre-Christian stellar goddesses....3

Another quality synopsis of Virgo lore is given by Olcott:

In the astronomical records of every age and race extant we find references to the constellation of the Virgin, and there is every reason to believe tha tit was one of the first star groups to receive a name. On the ancient maps, th eVirgin is generally represented as a woman with wings, in a walking attitude. In her left hand she bears a ead of wheat, or ear of corn, which is marked by the brilliant first magnitude star Spica. ...According to the poets, this Virgin was Astrćus and Aurora, and hte goddess of justice. Near her appear the Scales in which, it is said, she weighed the good and evil deeds of men. In the golden age she resided in the earth, but becoming offended as the wickedness of namkind she returned to heaven. Hesiod claimed that she was the daughter of Jupiter and Themis, and Aratos fives more spcae to the history of this constellaion in his celebrated poem thatn to any other constellation. His account is as follows:

Once on earth
She made abode, and deigned to dewll with mortals
In those old times, never of men or dames
She shunned the converse; but sat with the rest.
Immortal as she was. They call her Justice.
Gathering the elders in the public forum.
Or in the open highway, earnestly
She chanted forth laws for the general weal,
Nor yet was known contention michevievous,
Nor fierce recrimination, nor uproar,
So lived they. Far off rolled the surly sea,
No ship yet from a distance brought supplies
But ploughs and oxen brought them. Queen of nations,
Justice herself poured all just gifts on man.
As long as earth still nursed a golden race
There walked she, but consorted with the silver
Rarely, and with reserves, nor always ready;
Demanding the old custom back again.
Nor yet that silver race she quite forsook.
At evening twilight, from the echoing mountains,
She came alone. No gracous words fell from her
But when the people filled the heights around
She threatened and rebuked their wickedness,
Refusing though besought to appear again;
"How have your golden fathers left a race
Degenerate! But you shall breed a worse
And then shall wars, and then shall hateful bloodshed
Be among men; and grief press hard on crime."
This said, she sought the mountains, and the people
Whose eyes still strained upon her, left for ever.
And when these also died, those others sprang,
A brazen race, more wicked than the last.
These first the sword, that roadside malefactor,
Forged; these first fed upon the ploughing oxen.
And Justice then, hating that generation,
Flew heavenward, and inhabited that spot
Where now at night may still be seen the Virgin.

Virgo was also identified with Erigone, the daughter of Icarus, who hung herself when she learned of her father's death. In calssic times she was associated with Ceres, of her daughter Proserpine. Proserpine, so the legend relates, was wantering in the fields in the springtime, and was carried off by pluto to be his wife. Ceres besought Jupiter to intercede in the matter, and consequently Proserpine was allwoed her liberty at intervals.
This myth is regarded as an allegory. Proserpine represents the seed which is buried in the earth, and in proper time bursts forth into bloom.4

Virgo as Isis

Other sources cite Virgo as being the stellar icon of the Egyptian goddess Isis, but such analogies are directly related to the zodiac of Denderah, which was of a decidedly Greek influence and not at all reflective of the Egyptian reality in earlier times when Sirius was identified with Isis.

In Egypt Virgo was associated with Isis, and it was said that she formed the Milky Way by dropping innumerable wheat heads in the sky.
Another version of this myth is that Isis dropped a sheaf of corn as she fled to escape Typhoon, which, as he continued to persue her, became scattered over the heavens, thus producing the Galaxy which has all the appearance of glittering grains of golden corn.
In the Zodiac in the temple of Denderah, in Egypt, about 2000 B.C. (now in Paris), she is likewise represented with a branch in her hand, but ignorantly explained by a false religion to represent Isis! Her name is called Aspolia, which means ears of corn, or the seed, which shows that though the woman is seen, it is her Seed who is the great subject of prophecy.6
In Egypt Virgo was drawn on the zodiacs of Denderah and Thebes, much disproportioned and without wings, holding an object said to be a distaff marked by the stars of Coma Berenices; while Eratosthenes and Avienus identified her with Isis, the thousand-named goddess, with the wheat ears in her had that she afterwards dropped to form the Mily Way, or clasping in her arms the young Horus, the infant Southern sun-god, the last of the divine kings.7

The Royal Observatory at Greenwich

It is a documented fact that John Flamsteed (1646 - 1719), the first "Astronomer Royal", chose to have the star Spica culminating for the moment of the cornerstone laying of the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. "When John Flamsteed laid the first stone of the Greenwich observatory on 10th August 1675 he also drew a horoscope for its founding, at 3.14 p.m. in the afternoon. Flamsteed was not a believer in astrology - in fact he had written a short pamphlet against it some years earlier - but it was a popular diversion in those times. So he wrote on the observatory horoscope in Latin, "Risum teneatis amici" - "This will keep you laughing my friends".8 The New Style equivalent is August 20, 1675, and this gives us Spica on the meridian:

 Figure 1-2  Flamsteed chose to lay the first stone of the Royal Observatory at Greewich at the moment that Spica culminated -- 3:14 PM.

The question we need to ask, then, is what was astronomically special about St. Matthew's Day of 1446 that might have been of importance and reverence for a Scottish Masonic guild that desired to craft a special memorial to their peculiar beliefs. Can we find some special circumstances surrounding Virgo in 1446, and more specifically September 21, that would propel the Sinclairs to sanctify the foundation stone on this date -- four years before construction was to begin in earnest?

Further info on Isis and Virgo can be found in these links:

1 Atlantis Rising, March-April 2003, p. 42.
2 Robson, Vivian, The Fixed Stars and Constellations in Astrology, Samuel Weiser Inc., New York, 1923, pp. 211-2.
3 Gettings, Fred, Dictionary of Astrology, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1985, pp. 344-5.
4 Olcott, William Tyler, Star Lore of All Ages, Kessinger Publihing (reprint of 1911 edition), Montana, USA, pp. 381-3.
5 Ibid.
6 Bullinger, Ethelbert W., The Witness of the Stars, 1893, p. 33.
7 Allen, Richard Hinkley, Star Names, Their Lore and Meaning, Dover, Ner York, 1963, pp. 462-3.
8 A better translation may be: "The laughter you may hold friendly."

Part 2
Mundane Astrology

Copyright © 2003 Ed Kohout.  All Rights Reserved.