There are records from around BCE that Aristarchus used trigonometry and the 47th problem to estimate the size of and distance to the Sun and the Moon. Around BCE, Eratosthenes used Geometry and the 47th problem to calculate the circumference of the Earth and the tilt of the Earths axis.
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Elements of Astronomy are shown, alluded to, or mentioned at almost every step of our Masonic journey from EA to the final degree in every Masonic order. Why is Astronomy considered such an important part of Freemasonry? This paper is one Brothers interpretation based on his comprehension, and I ask you to accept that while others may comprehend things differently, we are all likely to be correct.
Page 4 Astronomy Etymology Let us begin by reviewing the etymology of two words relating to this liberal Science; Astrology Astronomy The word Astrology is from the Latin Astra meaning stars, and the Greek Logos meaning word, study of, or having to do with. The word Astronomy uses the Greek Nomia meaning law of, knowledge of, or facts about. Astronomy, the knowledge of the stars came to be used during the s as a description of calculating and foretelling the movements of the heavenly bodies; in other words, heavenly divination.
From about this same time, the word Astrology, the study of the stars, became more aligned with earthly divination, or fortune telling. A quick look at some of the other words we will encounter. Zodiac comes from the Latin Zodiacus, which in turn came from the Greek Zodiakos meaning circle of animals; the same Greek root as the English word Zoo. In modern western society any mention of the Zodiac immediately suggests Astrology, or fortune telling.
Astronomers however, would be quick to point out that the Zodiac is, in fact, the most important group of heavenly bodies, the one that all other astronomy uses as a reference. Below are the symbols used by Astronomers to represent the Earth and the Seven Planets of old. Page 5 Why Astronomy? Our investigation begins by referring to Albert Gallatin Mackeys Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry, which says: With Astronomy the system of Freemasonry is intimately connected.
Many of Masonrys symbols and emblems come from Astronomy. The Lodge room itself is symbolic of the world, and it is adorned with symbols representing the sun and moon whose regularity and precision provides a lesson to the initiate. The pillars of strength and establishment, and the spheres of the terrestrial and the celestial demonstrate the connection of Freemasonry with the heaven and earth, God and man.
Consider for a moment, the number of times you have seen or heard overt references to astronomical bodies in our meetings. When you delve a little deeper into our rituals, you will also find many subtle or even covert references to astronomy. The overt references begin very early in the Masonic journey. Within minutes of completing his obligation and being introduced to the Three Great Lights, the new Entered Apprentice is hears the first clear astronomical statement.
After being tested and invested, our new brother encounters the first covert reference to Astronomy, and it is not something he hears, but where he is placed in the North East corner of his intended structure. The NE is in the northern hemisphere the corner of the building that sees the first rays of the sun, the corner of the building closest to the sunrise on the day of longest daylight, the Summer Solstice. The corner of the most Light; the corner between the Darkness of the North and the Light of the East.
The second time our new brother Entered Apprentice attends lodge, and witnesses the opening ceremony for the first time, he hears that the three principal officers mark the Sun at its meridian in the south, mark the setting Sun in the west, and he hears that the Master is placed in the position of the rising Sun, the source of Light, to employ and instruct the brethren in Freemasonry. And either at that meeting or soon thereafter, he receives the Lecture on the First Tracing Board.
Page 6 In the First Tracing Board Lecture are descriptions of the Sun and Moon as messengers of the heavens, the Temple of the Universe being crowned with stars as a diadem, the covering of the Lodge being a celestial canopy, the starry firmament being depicted by seven stars, The Blazing Star referring us to the Sun whose benign influence dispenses its blessings, the tessellated border referring us to the Planets forming a skirt work around the Sun. Never forget that this last part about the Planets was written not very long after Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for suggesting that the planets went around the Sun instead of the Earth.
During the First Degree, we learn that the Masonic Lodge is situated due East and West, it is boundless or without limit, and its covering is no less than the clouded canopy by day and the starry decked heavens by night. It is apparent from the position, the form, the dimensions, and the principal officers, that the Lodge is meant to represent the entire solar system, with a particular interest in the Sun. Astronomical references continue through the three degrees, and beyond well beyond. While we in Australia square the lodge, in many other jurisdictions this is expressly forbidden.
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To quote from the ritual of my Mother Lodge within the jurisdiction of the United Grand Lodges of Germany; During circumambulation, processions must always proceed clockwise around the Lodge, taking care NOT to square the corners. Movement should be elliptical or circular. The brethren are here reminded that they symbolically follow the path of the Sun which, from an earthly point of view, travels in an ellipse.
Many Lodges around the world have the Sun and moon hanging or painted on the wall behind the Master in the East, or stars painted on the ceiling, or even miniature lights in the ceiling to imitate a starry night. We come across many Astronomical symbols and devices in Freemasonry including the zodiac. For example, each of the three buildings that have been constructed in Great Queen Street as the home of the UGLE, has conspicuously displayed a huge zodiac on the ceiling.
In true Masonic fashion, none of the astronomical references are ever fully explained in our Rituals, but are left for the individual Mason to study and understand in his own way and in his own time. The wondrous beauty of Masonic learning is that it allows every man to learn in a way that is within the compass of his attainments and reach his own conclusions in the light of his own beliefs, values, education and interests.
It also means that there are many individual interpretations of almost every paragraph, picture and symbol within Freemasonry. Page 7 Earliest Records The earliest evidence of humans studying the heavens comes from cave paintings dated from about 25, BCE where Lunar cycles were being recorded.
The records of the Babylonian observations from around BCE showed that humans in that region had been methodically recording the movements of the fixed stars and the wandering stars planets over at least the previous 4, years. Thats over years ago! In general, historians seem to agree that the key driver for humans to understand the heavens was the change to an agricultural society and the need to be able to accurately predict the changing seasons to ensure successful harvests and therefore their survival.
Our ancestors recognized that there were four critical moments during each year that they needed to recognise and be able to predict.
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These times are; when the Sun reaches its strongest on the longest day of the year, the Summer Solstice; when the Sun is at its weakest on the shortest day of the year, the Winter Solstice; and the midpoint between the solstices when the day and night are equal, the Autumnal Equinox and the Vernal Equinox Spring Equinox. It was during the weeks following these four annual events, that it was critical to human survival to take certain actions; planting, harvesting, storing food for the winter. The knowledge of how to accurately predict these times was a mystery communicated to the chief priests or Magi alone who kept this knowledge secret simply because it gave them power.
They used myths and stories that were common knowledge amongst the people exoteric and were retold and passed on from generation to generation.
When these stories were explained in a different way, an esoteric 1 way, those with the right instruction could use them to understand and predict the movements in the heavens. This was one of the key teachings of the Mystery Schools from which Freemasonry is often said to have descended. For the sake of convention, all further Astronomical references will be from the point of view of the northern hemisphere. Viewed from Earth, the Sun appears to move along an orbit called the plane of the ecliptic which makes the sun appear to rise and set at different places on the horizon over the course of the year.
As we view the rising Sun throughout the year, it first travels north to the Tropic of Cancer and stands still Solstice at the maximum northern declination for 3 days from the 21 st to the 23 rd of June. The Sun then begins its migration southward to the Autumnal Equinox in September, keeps travelling southward to the Tropic of Capricorn where it lies dead for 3 days from 22 nd to 24 th of December at its maximum southern declination. Then the Sun moves northward again until it reaches the Vernal Equinox and the cycle recommences. The four most important times of the year, the cardinal points of the Solstices and Equinoxes, are marked by four First Magnitude stars.
During the course of a year, each of these stars is dominant in the night sky for around three months and one can estimate the season by correctly identifying the dominant star. Page 9 Humans like patterns because they help us to understand things, help us to remember things, and help us to teach them to others.
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So it was natural that our ancestors looked for patterns to help correctly identify the Royal Stars. Our ancestors imagined shapes between and around these stars to look like creatures that then became a part of the stories and myths that enabled them to be remembered and passed on. They filled the path of the planets with these imaginary shapes or constellations 2. They naturally concentrated their imaginations on that band of the sky where the Wandering Stars travelled; on or near the path of the Sun, or the ecliptic.
On a band of sky which lies roughly 8 either side of the Ecliptic is where we find the constellations of the zodiac circle of animals. This thin band of sky is divided into twelve segments of 30 each, with one constellation contained, or at least mostly contained, within each segment. As far as we know, the concept of the zodiac evolved from Sumerian and Babylonian astronomy, and was later influenced by the Egyptians and Greeks.
The Romans gave the constellations the Latin names we know them by today. From a very early time the twelve zodiac constellations became fairly standardised in western and middle eastern civilisations. They were so important to agriculture and navigation that they have remained remarkably unchanged for over years despite travelling across many different languages and cultures. But why twelve constellations? Why not ten or some other number?
It is the lowest number divisible by more than two factors. Eleven is a prime number, ten only has two factors being five and two, nine only the factor of three, eight only two and four, seven is a prime number, six only two and three, and five is a prime number. You get the idea. Twelve, however, divides into six, four, three, and two, giving it a wide range of practical uses where there is a need to divide things up into whole numbers, from the compass rose to calendars to clocks to weights and measures.
As a result, people in general, and mathematicians in particular, tend to get excited about the number twelve and apparently they always have done. The Sumerian government was always composed of twelve people The Babylonians used the number twelve for calendars and times The Greeks imagined twelve Gods on mount Olympus, and many Gods had twelve sons The Zoroastrians had twelve commanders of light, light being a symbol for the Sun Pythagoras taught that the number twelve had a divine, profound mystical meaning Jacob, AKA Israel, had twelve sons There were twelve tribes of Israel Mithras had twelve disciples Christ had twelve disciples There are twelve days of Christmas The Shiite Muslims list twelve ruling Imams following Muhammad There are twelve notes in the musical scale Western music descended from Pythagoras There are 12 inches in a foot At the equinoxes, there are twelve hours of day and twelve hours of night The Hindu Sun Deity Surya has twelve names, twelve mantras, and rides across the sky in his chariot drawn by seven horses who represent seven colours rainbow and seven chakras.
Hercules had twelve labours Arthur had twelve knights at his Round Table Twelve is the product of 3 and 4; Triangle and Square; Spirit and Matter; Divine and Human Twelve is the sum of 5 and 7; Life and Good Fortune In several early cultures, twelve was the number of perfection While many groups, such as the early Gnostics, understood the allegory of the twelve disciples of Mithras to be symbolic of the journey of the sun throughout the year, other groups understood the allegories literally and believed in twelve actual people.
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The timeless symbol of the One and his Twelve has featured in myths and stories as long as man has told them. We see it in Moses and the twelve tribes seeking the promised land, in Hercules and his twelve labours, in Mithras and his twelve disciples, in King Arthur and his twelve Knights of the Round Table, and in the stories of Robin Hood and his twelve merry men; all allegories of the Sun and his twelve houses in the heavens. Page 11 The Vernal Equinox For thousands of years, the start of Spring, the Vernal Equinox, has been a most important time of the year for human survival and civilisation.
For most cultures throughout history and even latest evidence shows pre-history, the Vernal Equinox was the start of a new year.