Friday, 28 April 2017

星 | xīng

In Mandarin Chinese, (Pinyin: xīng 🔊) means “star”, broadly speaking: it could be any heavenly body, celebrity, or a star shape. “Star” in a purely astronomical sense is 星星 (xīngxing).

You’d think that the Chinese could have chosen something like to represent a star, but no. The original form of was , which is made of (jīng) “sparkling” on top of now-familiar (shēng) “to give birth”, “to grow”, etc. In its turn, consists of three radicals (), “sun”. In , only one sun is left, but you get the picture. Many historical forms of this character look surprisingly similar to the Western astrological or astronomical symbols.

According to Wu Xing, the five elements correspond to the five visible planets (and vice versa) as follows:

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Thursday, 27 April 2017

生 | shēng

In Mandarin Chinese, (Pinyin: shēng 🔊) is a word with many meanings. It could be a verb meaning “to live”, “to grow”, “to give birth” or “to light”, as in 生火 (shēnghuǒ, “to light a fire”); a noun meaning “life”, “living thing” or “student”; an adjective “fresh”, “innate”, “live”, “natural”, “raw”, “unfamiliar”, “uncultivated”, “unripe”; or an adverb “very”. Combining “to go out” with , we get 出生 (chūshēng 🔊), “to be born” or “birth”. A combination of and “day” is a word for birthday: 生日 (shēngrì 🔊).

may look like (wáng) with an extra stroke, but the origin of this character is very different: (“bud”) + “earth” = “a sprout coming out of the ground”, i.e. birth, growth etc.

More photos related to buds, shoots, sprouts and sea glass @ Shutterstock.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

♇ | Pluto

and Pluto (alternate) are the astronomical and astrological symbols representing Pluto. This celestial body was named after Pluto (Πλούτων), the Greek and Roman god of the underworld, whose earlier Greek name was Hades (ᾍδης).

Pluto is not a classical planet and was unknown to alchemists. It was discovered in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh after almost a year of systematic search for trans-Neptunian “Planet X” predicted by Percival Lowell and William Pickering. Pluto was enjoying the status of planet until 2006 when it was reclassified (or “plutoed”) as a dwarf planet by International Astronomical Union (IAU).

The astronomical symbol for Pluto, , which looks like a flipped and flopped Cyrillic letter Б, is a monogram of the letters “P” and “L” which could be interpreted as the initials of Percival Lowell or “Pickering—Lowell”.

The astrological symbol for Pluto, Pluto (alternate), is more in line with other planetary symbols. According to Wikipedia, the circle represents Pluto’s Cap of Invisibility and the arc under the circle represents bident (not to be confused with bidet). Also, it could be thought of as a symbol of Mercury, , with circle and arc swapped. I like this latter symbol more because it looks like a flower.

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Tuesday, 25 April 2017

♆ | Neptune

is an astronomical and astrological symbol representing the planet Neptune.

This planet was named after Neptune, the Roman god of the sea, whose Greek counterpart was Poseidon. Neptune is not a classical planet and was unknown to alchemists. Its existence was predicted by Urbain Le Verrier and it was discovered in 1846 by Johann Gottfried Galle.

According to Wikipedia, it was Le Verrier himself who proposed both the name and the symbol of a trident for the new planet. An alternative symbol, featuring letters “L” and “V” (in honour of Le Verrier), was proposed by François Arago but it never took off.

More photos related to the ocean and sea glass @ Shutterstock.

Monday, 24 April 2017

⛢ | Uranus

and are the astronomical and astrological symbols representing the planet Uranus.

The planet got its name from the ancient Greek god of the sky Ouranos (Οὐρανός). It is the only planet in the Solar System named after the Greek deity. Uranus is not a classical planet and was unknown to alchemists.

According to Wikipedia,

The symbols for Uranus were created shortly after its discovery in 1781. One symbol, , invented by J. G. Köhler and refined by Bode, was intended to represent the newly discovered metal platinum; since platinum, commonly called white gold, was found by chemists mixed with iron, the symbol for platinum combines the alchemical symbols for iron, , and gold, . This symbol also combines the symbols of Mars () and the Sun () because in Greek mythology, Uranus represented heaven, and represents the combined power of Mars’ spear and the Sun. Another symbol, , was suggested by Lalande in 1784. In a letter to Herschel, Lalande described it as “un globe surmonté par la première lettre de votre nom” (“a globe surmounted by the first letter of your name”).
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Sunday, 23 April 2017

♁ | Earth

and are the astronomical symbols representing the planet Earth.

Earth was not one of the seven classical planets. You’d think it would be natural for astrologers to put Earth in the centre. But no. Juan Eduardo Cirlot writes in his Dictionary of Symbols:

But astrology and traditional symbolism owe their inspiration not to the Copernican system but to that which had been accepted by the Ancients. <...> At the same time, the fact of there being seven planets responds to the idea of the seven planetary heavens, which in turn tallies with that of the seven Directions or areas in space (which in turn, when transposed into terms of time, becomes the origin of the seven days of the week). The relationship of the planets to the seven points in space is as follows: Sun — the zenith, Moon — the nadir, Mercury — the centre, Venus — the West, Mars — the South, Jupiter — the East, and Saturn — the North.
One of symbols for Earth is a cross in a circle which could be thought of as a globe with equator and one meridian.

Another symbol is a stylised globus cruciger, , which looks like the upside-down “mirror of Venus, or maybe it is just where the cross went off-centre. Note its (unintentional) similarity with Chinese character “earth”. is also an alchemical symbol for antimony.

Earth deities include goddesses Cel, Cybele, Demeter, Gaia, Jörð, Ki, Māra, Mat Zemlya (Мать-Сыра Земля), Mokoš (Мокошь), Pachamama, Papahānaumoku, Sif, Terra (Tellus), Urash and Žemyna as well as gods Geb, Tudigong and Veles.

More photos of earth and sea glass @ Shutterstock.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

♄ | Saturn

is an astrological and astronomical symbol representing the planet Saturn.

This planet was named after Saturnus, the Roman god of agriculture, whose Greek counterpart was Cronus. In alchemical tradition, Saturn was associated with lead. The English word Saturday and Dutch zaterdag are derived from Latin Saturni dies, i.e. “day of Saturnus”.

But what about the symbol ? According to Wikipedia,

Saturn is usually depicted with a scythe or sickle, and the planetary symbol has apparently evolved from a picture of this attribute, in Kamateros (12th century) shown in a shape similar to the letter eta η, with the horizontal stroke added along with the “Christianization” of the other symbols <as we’ve already seen in the cases of Mercury and Venus> in the early 16th century.
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