Beer Drinkers Guide
to the Zodiac
When our ancestors found they could make a delicious, nourishing and uplifting drink from barley and water they were overjoyed. When they tried to increase the yield by farming they had a problem:
when should they plant to be sure of a good crop.
They found the answer in the stars. Thus was born the calendar we still have today,
and the 'Circle of Animals' so well beloved by astrologers.
Thousands of years later this ancient Zodiac was joined by a circle of hieroglyphs.
It was condemned by the Church as 'The work of Satan'.
It was called the 'Signs of the Zodiac', and it tells a different story. Fasten your safety-belts. This could be a bumpy ride.
The Signs of the Zodiac
ARIES the RAM March 21 – April 19
The year opens with the Spring Equinox, and an important feast on April Fool's day.
The sign for the Ram shows him sowing corn to right and left, and the 'V' shape even looks like the cross-section of a furrow in the ground.
The beauty of these signs is that they can suggest more than one meaning,
and when you remember that being based on Greek myths means they refer to strong and detailed stories,
you will see they were ideal for hiding secrets.
In myth Aries was Zeus's ram, had a fleece the colour of a golden corn-field, could talk, reason and fly.
Hmmm. His fate was to be sacrificed to the cornfields, and his beautiful golden fleece to be nailed to a tree.
In early farming culture they believed that the corn held a spirit, that it died when planted,
but that it would survive death.
So as the ballad says,
'They took a plough and ploughed him down, put a sod upon his head, and then they swore a solemn oath – John Barleycorn was dead'.
TAURUS the BULL April 20 – May20
'The gentle rains of spring' began to fall, 'John Barleycorn got up again, and sore surprised them all'
A time for rejoicing.
The old bull had, from the first records of Ouranos and Gaia,
been in charge of the great spring festival we still keep as Mayday.
It was an orgiastic festival celebrating the union of Heaven and Earth.
It was surrounded by 40 days of fasting, 'To purify the temples', as the Romans put it,
and to identify the children conceived at this sacred event.
Thus June became the traditional month for weddings. As it still is today.
GEMINI the TWINS May 21 – June 20
Here come the Twins.
Barley was seen as being twofold – the plant 'thick and strong
and the seed 'well armed wi' pointed spears
It is a very prickly plant to harvest.
Gemini refers to Castor and Pollux, ('Badger' and 'Much good Wine' in Greek),
but the sign is undefined and gives us more scope.
'Body and Spirit' spring to mind, and that takes us back to a clay tablet from Lebanon dated 1500 BC.
It tells us of the 'Barley Twins', that's 'Old Thunderguts' and 'Mr. Sunshine', and of their sons Aleyin the plant, and Mot the seed.
As you saw Aleyin is reborn in April, and Mot you will see, in the opposite month – October.
That's enough for the time being – you'll find the whole drama in our notes.
Now. Up to this point the barley has been in the territory of 'Old Thunderguts', (Baal),
but all that is about to change. He is the god of rain, Earth's husband no.1, who gives life to the plant,
and <'Mr Sunshine' is Earth's husband No.2 who brings on the seed. Here at the midsummer solstice No.1 is sacrificed and No.2 takes over. All in a good cause.
CANCER the CRAB June 21 – July22
This beautiful little sign reminds us more of a Chinese Yin Yang than a crab,
but it is in fact a secret medieval cipher made up from two figure sixes.
When they are split at midsummer they give us six months for the rising and six for the falling months of the year,
and whilst there are plenty of rain gods, sun gods are not so plentiful.
Apollo was the solar god who measures the year – more a god of science than sunshine.
The Greek Sun God was Helios, but it doesn't matter what he's called
– he ripens the corn and prepares it for harvest.
It's a complicated format, but it produced our calendar, and the cakes and ale that nourished our ancestors.
LEO July 23 – August 22
Why should anybody think that this beautiful pictogram represents a lion?
It looks more like a shepherd's crook, and lions make incredibly bad shepherds.
When barley begins to ripen the head turns white and begins to droop,
'his drooping head and bending joints showed he began to fail'
so perhaps this has something to do with the sign.
Now. John Barleycorn was seen as a villain who tried to keep the harvest for himself,
and harvesting was a series of aggressive tasks.
As the ballad puts it, 'Then his enemies began to show their deadly rage'
When the sacrifice was accomplished and the spirit thought to be captured in the barley,
scythes were sharpened.
Rain and Sun were originally facing each other across the Zodiac but everything got skewed with the Precession of Equinoxes.
Don't worry though. Nothing so trivial as that would be allowed to affect the beer.
VIRGO the VIRGIN August 23 – September 22
She's not what she seems, this virgin. For a start she's not a virgin, and her story springs from matriarchal times,
long before John Barleycorn entered the arena.
In the old Zodiac she's pictured with the barley on her lap, and it is the barley, originally a corn dolly called Kore, that is the virgin. She was the last sheaf of corn to be harvested, buried in the autumn and disinterred in the spring. Hopefully she would have sprouted under ground and show that the spring sowing could proceed. In a way she had overcome death, and had produced offspring without male fertilisation. This gave rise to the myth of Demeter's virgin daughter Kore spending winter in the Underworld, and then reappearing as Persephone in the spring. .
The pictogram portrays Demeter, the 'Mother of the Barley', holding her 'Weapon long and sharp', and it takes us back to ancient matriarchal times when women were in charge of the cornfields.
The sign is based on the letter 'M'. but why?
LIBRA the FLAILS September 23 – October 22
Don't panic. This sign depicts flails above a thrashing-floor and the Scales come next.
In Aries the seed 'dies' to grow the plant, and opposite, in Libra, the plant 'dies' to give birth to the seed.
Also, laws that enabled settled societies to function had to be enforced, and flails symbolised that enforcement. The thrashing-floor was also used as a law-court in those times, and indeed we still 'thrash things out in court', looking for 'grains of truth'.
The Egyptian god Osiris, (renowned for his splendid beer) was usually depicted with both crook and flails, to show he was both shepherd and farmer.
SCORPIO the SCORPION October 24 – November 22
Scorpio may look like a scorpion, but don't be fooled. She is Demeter's daughter Kore, the virgin in charge of the cornfields and the dark Queen of the Underworld.
She has many names. She was called Persephone when she returned from her winter with Hades, and the Romans called her Ceres. They joined her with her mother, blindfolded her, put a sword in one hand and scales in the other and stood her above their law-courts. And there she is to this day.
The sting in her tail represents both a basket for 'winnowing the grain from the chaff', and scales for 'separating truth from lies'. Quite appropriate as a thrashing floor was also used as a law-court. The randy old Bull is opposite her sign – Sower / Thrashing.
Her sign, like that of her mother, is based on the letter 'M'. There must be a reason, but again we cannot think why.
SAGITTARIUS the BOWMAN November 22 – December 21
Chiron the Centaur who inhabits this constellation, was a pupil of Apollo, who taught him the art of logical reasoning. This new faculty stemmed from calibrating the year by the sun against the horizon by the Druids, and against the stars by the Magi. In his turn Chiron was tutor to many kings and heroes, as was Aristotle to Alexander.
But. It is the Midwinter Solstice. The Bowman has a duty. Twang.
Mr Sunshine is banished and here comes Old Thunderguts, bearing the New Year and the Christmas Beer, brewed from barley planted nine months ago, 'And if you do but taste his blood, 'twill make your courage rise', (John Barleycorn).
CAPRICORN the GOAT December 22 – January 19
The sign for the 'Goat Horn' is opposite the Crab, and is an even more weird medieval cipher. This time it is made up from the figures six and seven, and registers the thirteen-month year. This prevailed in common law, (and maybe still does), as a 'year and a day' for some rental agreements, trial marriages and so on. And, with the barley being planted in Aries, and the 'barley spirit' appearing in Capricorn, we wonder if this has something to do with 'Sheep and Goats'? Who Knows?
Anyway, Robert Graves tells us that Zagreus of Crete, the 'Cretan Dionysus' and Zeus's foster brother, is the 'He-Goat' in Capricorn. Whether he is or not, he takes us to Zagreus in Crete. He invented beer and was the first person to yoke oxen to the plough.
With his brother Sabazius in the north, grew to be a strong civilising force in Greece.
Eventually their younger brother, the vine Dionysus, took over the whole show, virtually all the creative arts.
As Zagreus is credited as the first inventor of beer, many a good brewery produces a splendid Christmas Beer that is also called Goat Beer.
AQUARIUS the WATER-CARRIER January20 – February 18
Aquarius, ('Old Thunderguts'), was at first the Christmas King, but the Precession of Equinoxes pushed him off his perch from across the Winter Solstice. Now we are in the Age of Aquarius has his bahookie planted firmly on Aries, the driving seat. And doesn't his sign picture his attributes perfectly? Thunder, Lightening and Rain? Well most of them. He was also responsible for earthquakes and volcanoes, lakes, ponds, rivers and the sea.
In Greek Myth he started as Ouranos, god of the material world, and progressed through Cronos to Poseidon, with his trident of lightening-flashes. As Ouranos he was the consort of Gaia, the first lady of the land, and together they made our Good Green Earth. And with it the fields of barley.
An industrious couple, they also spawned the Titans, who in turn produced the Olympians. Much later, the god of the spiritual, non-material, sunshine world, Apollo, gained a seat on Olympus. He tried to take over the whole outfit but failed, and then had to work for two years in a brewery, before they let him back. Good.
PISCES the FISHES February 19 – March 20
And so we come full circle. Pisces is a 'joining-together' sign, depicting the 'Union of Opposites'. Perhaps this is preparing for the Union of Heaven and Earth on April Fool's day. More likely Body & Mind when the Ego matures.
This primary festival was pushed into May by the Precession of Equinoxes. But that opens another story: a story of Cakes and Ale, Witchcraft, Bread, Wine, Religion, a joining together of those elements separated by the Twins - the enigmatic 'Mysterium Conjunctus', destined to establish Paradise on earth sometime in the future.. All very complicated.
In the meantime – Sleinte Mhor ……. MG
THE AGE OF GOLD
Barley has the property of fermenting from its own substance in the right conditions and --- growing wild! It will also make an unleavened bread that is delicious and still being enjoyed in Finland. But its most primitive use is in soups, or to be exact – broth. Remains in the 'Kingdom of Fife' on the east side of Scotland show its use in making barley-cakes six thousand years ago, and we can be sure that it was barley that encouraged our ancestors into farming, the biggest change to humankind in a million years.
It required a new way of thinking.
To increase the yield and get a regular supply of barley-cakes and ale they had to find out how to predict the seasons accurately to be sure of a good crop. This was difficult using the old lunar-calendar from their hunting days. By observing the sun on the horizon, they were able to divide the year into four and relate the seasons to the vegetation yearly life-cycle.
Now. Because barley is a bearded grain, and because goats are bearded, lively, dancing creatures, they assumed that 'Goat Spirit' was in their 'Goat Grass' and finished up in their 'Goat Beer'. Their leaders started to wear goat's horns and called themselves 'Shepherds', and their four great cross-quarterly meetings they kept as 'Cakes & Ale' festivals: times for feasting and merrymaking and paying homage to their 'Great Mother', Earth, the giver of life. With time the 'Quarter Days', (solstices and equinoxes) became – um – more serious.
All that is not surprising when you remember that at that time, except for their leaders, (who were a little brighter), our ancestors were intellectually only about four years old. They were just beginning to enter their 'Golden Age' as the Greeks called it.
This was the time when the foundations of our modern civilisations were being laid. Our ancestors were gaining language, learning how to farm and inventing stories to rationalise the things they couldn't understand: a time when serious warfare was a few thousand years in the future, and when people were still 'few in number and mostly harmless'.
The Great Mother Gaia was by and large their first deity. She was joined by Ouranos. With them the Barleycorn culture spread far and wide, from the rivers that flow into the Black Sea, south through the Aegean, (the 'Goat Sea'), on as far as northern India and north up the great rivers. In fact wherever barley would grow.
Tribes began to meet for feasts and celebrations on special feast days, and Cakes & Ale began to reinforce the idea of a Golden Age.
THE AGE OF SILVER
As Hunter-Gathering morphed into farming the other gods started to appear, and society started to gain structures reflecting these changes.
Then from the south came the idea of sub-dividing the year into twelve months using the sun against the stars. Each month was given a farming task, which enabled farmers to predict the seasons. With that the Zodiac was born. And with it not only the farming year, but also the art of Astrology.
By this time our ancestors were reaching their pre-teen-intellect stage, the Age of Silver, and were achieving marvellous things. The great civilisations were reaching their height, and in the Mediterranean countries the Barleycorn culture was being joined by the Vine culture.
With 'Plant' being the body, and 'Seed' the Spirit, people came to believe that this spirit could be captured by their four quarter-day sacrifices. Thus you could become stronger, jollier, sexier, brighter, wiser, braver, and an altogether better person simply by eating the cakes and drinking the ale. Great were the festivals in those northern territories.
Great were the festivals in the south too. Although wine does not quench the thirst like beer, it is more intoxicating and so in the south it became the no.1 tipple. And of course, barley was joined by wheat and other grains as farmers gained in expertise, so cakes-and-ale was joined by bread-and-wine.
Not that beer figured less in the scheme of things. Far from it. In the north farmers were claiming mysterious properties into both bread and beer, and from their ranks came the mysterious 'priest-kings'. The Achaeans were invading Greece and their expertise was increasing along with their deities. The virgin Gaia gained her consort Ouranos, (thunder in the mountains), and together they created our good green earth. Then came Rhea and Cronos and the Titans, followed by the Olympians: Zeus, Demeter, (Mother of the barley) and their daughter, Kore, (the Virgin, or Persephone when she returned from the Underworld). Last to join the family was Persephone's son by Zeus called Zagreus, (meaning torn to pieces). His parentage and myth mark him out as a 'Divine Child'. He represented the barley spirit, was also known as the 'Cretan Pan', and he is recorded as the first Dionysus.
An ancient farming myth had grown up, which told us that Earth had two husbands. There was 'Old Thunderguts' to bring on the crop, and 'Mr Sunshine' to ripen the seed, and they changed places at the solstices. The corn itself echoed this division, and young men born at the right time were thought to hold similar spirits.
Zagreus had a brother further north called Sabazius, (which means 'sliced up') and they were both said to be brewers. They had a younger brother who overtook them both. He was the vine god, Dionysus, and wine could be stored in huge pots. It was traded to wherever ships could carry it in this adventurous Age of Silver. But, believing they had life well organised and to their liking, people became complacent.
THE AGE OF BRONZE
In the new Age of Bronze, when a few people had reached the intellect of teenagers, the first examples of warfare were introduced. Envious tribes from the Steppes and deserts were infiltrating the old civilisations and bringing about a tremendous mixing of ideas.
In both North and South they continued structuring the year. In the South they continued with the twelve-month scheme. Thus the Zodiac was born, and this has developed into the form we have today.
In the north they structured it like a modern pack of cards: four quarters of thirteen weeks each making a year of thirteen months, with a day over for the solstice (the Joker), and another for leap-years. They calculated all this using passage temples and stone circles, and that's how it has remained to this day in some farming communities.
In Greece the invading Achaeans built on the stories of the people they overcame and gave us a dream-like picture of those times. They told us about the old Titans and how they conquered them in fearsome wars, about Zagreus and Dionysus, of how they put the old Babylonian Zodiac into the 'Circle of Animals' we know today, and how they developed the idea of re-birth from the corn cycle. And later they produced hard-headed philosophers who questioned absolutely everything.
Then from the Steppes came the Zoroastrians. They took their ideas of good and evil into Persia and on into northern India. Also, from the deserts, came Semitic tribes with a fixation on a single god. From this merry-go-round of ideas and beliefs our modern religions began to take shape.
By this time a few people had gained our modern intelligence, and were developing a sense of their own identity. In 600 BC a poet who was called Sappho and who lived on the island of Lesbos, used the word 'I' in what is thought to be the first written example of the way we use it today: referring to ourselves. This step in our evolution introduced the Age of Iron, thought by the Greeks to be the most terrible of the four Ages. And I don't think many people would disagree.
THE AGE OF IRON
So. Into present times. Wars were well established by the year 1000BC and by Roman times they had become wars of conquest. In fact this Age of Iron saw a steady rise of competence in every field of human activity. Farming, building, language, fishing, science, in fact everything you can think of became more beneficial. Except for one. Warfare. Is warfare beneficial? Weapons and tactics were always being perfected. And still are. We haven't found a way beyond warfare even today, although we may now be trying. Kudos has given way to Wealth and Power. And religion seems to lead the way.
In order, we must suppose, to ensure that their doctrines and teaching prevailed, perhaps indeed for the greater good, the Christian Church in Europe took every step possible to prevent any opposition to their power. This entailed destroying (as far as possible), every record of the turbulent mixture of ideas in the earliest days of Christianity. However these early beliefs and ideas persisted in quite large groups that showed no sign of yielding, and eventually the Church declared them to be heresy.
They came to a head in the Middle Ages, when Europe was beset by plague, starvation and warfare. Old religions re-appeared, stories and ballads were circulating, and the Church became ever more heavy-handed. Perhaps because of this a group of people somewhere in the prime beer-making regions of north-east Europe looked at the Zodiac with its strange archaic circle of animals and devised the even stranger circle of hieroglyphs that goes alongside them.
We could find no evidence for this circle before it appeared on the Astrological Clock in Prague in 1410AD. We guess they were first put together around 1350AD, when the Morris Men and Maypole dancing appeared in Merry England, when stories of Robin Hood and King Arthur began to circulate and maybe a century before the Tarot and playing cards were introduced. These were not happy times. Too many secrets. Too many power struggles. Too much torture.
We can only guess who was behind these 'Signs of the Zodiac' as they were called. We could find nothing definite written about them. However when they began to give up their hidden meanings we noticed how well they echoed the ballad of John Barleycorn. From the multitude of versions, we have chosen that of Robert Burns. He, but for the Precession of Equinoxes, would have been born at Christmas and qualified as a Green Man.
SIR JOHN BARLEYCORN
There was three kings into the east
Three kings both great and high
And they ha'e sworn a solemn oath
John Barleycorn should die.
They took a plough and ploughed him down
Put a sod upon his head
And they ha'e sworn a solemn oath
John Barleycorn was dead.
But cheerful spring came kindly on,
And showers began to fall
John Barleycorn got up again,
And sore surprised them all.
The sultry suns of summer came
And he grew thick and strong,
His head well armed wi' pointed spears
That none should do him wrong.
Then sober Autumn entered mild,
When he grew wan and pale,
His bending joints and drooping head,
Showed he began to fail.
His colour sickened more and more,
He faded into age,
And then his enemies began,
To show their deadly rage.
They took a weapon long and sharp,
And cut him by the knee,
They tied him fast upon a cart,
Like a rogue for forgerie.
They laid him down upon his back,
And cudgelled him full sore,
They hung him up before the storm,
And turned him o'er and o'er.
They filled up a darksome pit,
With water to the brim,
And in they heaved John Barleycorn,
There let him sink or swim.
They laid him out upon the floor,
To work him further woe,
And still as signs of life appeared,
They tossed him to and fro.
They wasted o'er a scorching flame,
The marrow of his bones,
But a miller used him worst of all,
Crushed him between two stones.
John Barleycorn was a hero bold,
Of noble enterprise,
For if you do but taste his blood,
'Twill make your courage rise.
'Twill make a man forget his woe
'Twill heighten all his joy
'Twill make the widows heart to sing
Though the tear be in her eye
So let us toast John Barleycorn,
Each man a glass in hand,
And may his great posterity,
Ne'er fail in old Scotland.
ALEYIN AND MOT
This dramatic scenario about growing corn is taken from a clay tablet inscribed in Phoenician letters that comprised the first alphabet. It was found in Lebanon and morphed into the Greek version around 1000BC in Crete. This version is from the Larousse New Encyclopedia of Mythology, printed in 1973.
To my mind it rings true. Modern scholastic versions differ slightly.
Aleyin is the corn plant, son of Ba'al, (the god of rain). Ba'al's virgin daughter Anat is Aleyin's mother. She is in charge of the cornfields. At harvest time Aleyin has shrivelled in the sunshine that nourished his brother Mot, (the seed).
Aleyin sees Anat and admits that he killed his brother Mot so that he himself should live. He says as follows, found on a Lebanese 1500BC clay tablet :-
'I am Aleyin, son of Ba'al. Make ready the sacrifice.
'I am the lamb, which is made ready with pure wheat,
'To be sacrificed in expiation'.
(expiation of the death of his brother Mot)
Anat then seizes Aleyin and ----
With her sickle she cleaves him,
With her flails she thrashes him,
With her mill she grinds him,
With her fire she grills him,
In the fields to scatter him,
To consume his leven, so he no longer withholds his share.
Then, when the seed is planted again in the ground, Ba'al let loose his rain and Aleyin came back to life. Thus the cycle can start again. Thank heaven.
Like John Barleycorn, Aleyin was seen as a villain, as were all the Green Men.
As you see the first Green Man was the prophet who took the place of the corn plant, who suffered for his sins. This set the form of those who followed in the corn hierarchy into having two prophets – plant and seed – that developed into body and spirit. There are stacks on the net (2018) but the Betley Hill Window is a very good illustration.
Here we see the two main protagonists – Robin Hood, (the villain of the crew), who is the Hobby Horse, second up in the centre. His spiritual counterpart is Little John, to his right. He has long hair to protect his head when he is wearing a helmet, he being a Knight. Robins' fate was to die a sacrificial death. The old version of Christianity was well and truly outlawed by this time, in spite of there being two kings – Richard the 'Lion Heart' and John.
Ouranos the sacred heaven feels the desire to penetrate Gaia the Earth,
And Earth is consumed by the desire to enjoy coitus,
The rain comes down like a kiss towards the earth.
It gives birth to the herds that graze for mortals,
And to the fruit of life for Demeter.
All this when the spring foliage comes to an end under the hymen of dew,
And all this because of me.
PRECESSION OF EQUINOXES
It takes 26000 years for the Zodiac to go full circle, but the constellations do not follow each other in an orderly fashion. They leave gaps and overlap each other, and no one can say where one finishes and another starts. So we shall simplify things by saying each has a span of about 2200 years. As most astrologers say that Aquarius started around 2010 AD we shall use that as our starting point.
This means that Pisces started around 190 BC, Aries in 2390BC and Taurus in 4590BC, and that is about when the Zodiac was first put together. It is also when growing corn was in its infancy. The problem facing our ancestors was knowing when to sow, and what procedures to follow in order to get the bread they wanted.
They found the answers in the stars. At that time, Old Thunderguts himself, (Aquarius), was sitting across the Winter Solstice, with Mr Sunshine, (Leo), opposite over the Summer Solstice. Taurus the Bull, the sower of celestial seed and fabulous icon of masculinity, occupied the Spring Equinox. And who should be opposite him in the Zodiac but the virgin in charge of the harvest, the Queen of the Underworld.
Thus the year was quartered and the Spring Festival celebrating the marriage of Heaven and Earth was fixed on April Fool's day, along with other festivals for different times of the year.
But then things went wrong. Slowly but surely the Ram pushed the Bull off his seat, and by the year 2390BC had taken his place. However the Ram made a good sower, so the astrologers made a few adjustments and, except that the Bull took his Spring Festival with him to Mayday, things trundled along as before. For another 2200 years no less.
But then catastrophe. Slowly but surely the Fishes repeated the process, and they pushed the Ram off his seat. By the year 190 BC they had taken his place, and fishes are useless at sowing corn. So the Astrologers ignored the backsliding Zodiac and kept things as they were.
Now, although we still keep Aries in the Spring Equinox slot, his era passed on some time ago, and the Age of Fishes quite recently. And now, with songs and hullabaloo about the 'Age of Aquarius', Old Thunderguts has got his bahookie into the Equinoctial Driving Seat.
Ummmm – That looks as if our story is not yet ended, so let's enjoy what we have whilst we can.