Headless: The Sun on Orion

Greetings, Headless One, as you near your doom,
even as your shoulders bend from the weight.
Your sovereign strength grows, but approaches noon;
the day draws near when your might shall abate,
and your golden head shall roll from your neck.
The shimmering sword shall sing as it’s drawn
and as summer starts — the blade must swing hard.
The sun goes one way on its steady trek
while you march farther westward every dawn,
your flanking hounds a perpetual guard.

You sing for me the music of the spheres,
as you process around this royal seat,
unseen in summer behind daylight’s dome.
When winter begins, your star-light appears.
Though the scorpion stings you to defeat,
still with blade unsheathed you stalk the stars.
When your light reflects on fresh-fallen snow,
you are the Opener of Nature’s tome,
and you seize and enchant us unawares
when you reveal truths few mortals can know.

Birthless and deathless and crowned with the Sun,
striding in grace across eternity:
ages of ages shall pass ere you’re done
singing the praise of nameless Deity.
All this month you have worn the golden head
yet the sword of execution is drawn
and the day of your sentence approaches
when your golden light falls as libation.
The solstice comes, your most glorious dawn
when the power of darkness encroaches
and Headless becomes your constellation.

— Andrew B. Watt

I’ve written quite a lot in the past about the secret of Orion as the Headless One:

On the one hand, there’s not much to see when the Sun is on the shoulders of Orion during Decan III of Gemini. On the other, it’s all-important and all-consuming just how important it is. In the Southern Hemisphere, this conjunction occurs in the ten days before the Winter Solstice; in the Northern Hemisphere it occurs in the ten days before the Summer Solstice. (The Full Moon in Gemini sometimes occurs in the same location in the ten days before the Solstice on the other end of the year when the Sun is in Sagittarius, bookending this important conjunction with a parallel moment — and that one is a lot more visible, of course).

We know from some 10th century AD Byzantine sources that the goddess of this time of year was Praxidike, sometimes spelled Praxidice (which is also a title of Persephone, interestingly enough). And that Praxidike was worshipped with sacrifices of animal heads and not much else.

And we know that the image of the Mansion of the Moon that corresponds with this part of the sky is a head without a body; I learned that from Nigel Jackson’s illustrations for Christopher Warnock‘s Mansions of the Moon. And that the decan image for this decan, Gemini III, as outlined by Austin Coppock in 36 Faces: The History, Astrology, and Magic of the Decans, is “The Executioner’s Sword” — which lines up nicely-nicely with the idea of Orion being the Headless One in question. And we know from James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough, that there was something about the idea of a sacred kingship, where to be the king you had to kill the king. And we know from the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight that sometimes you kill, and sometimes you have tangled with an immortal being whose head can come back to life. And sometimes there’s myths like the Head of Bran the Blessed, which bears some resemblance to the idea of the guardianship role in Doctor Who, of the mysterious entity called the Face of Bo.

We also know that the ten days before the Summer Solstice in ancient Greece was the approximate time period of the Hellenic Mysteries of Thebes, also called the Mysteries of Castor and Pollux — a set of initiatory experiences so secret that apparently we know even less about them than we do about the mysteries of Eleusis. And we also know that the ten days before the Winter Solstice, was when the Spartans performed the mysteries of Artemis Orthia — the dance of the women; and the diamastiagosis, which was a ceremony that replaced sacrifices of human lives with offerings of human pain: the young men of Sparta climbed up on a scaffold or took hold of a frame of some sort and were whipped until they let go of the scaffold — trying to find the balance point between cowardice at letting go too early, and being whipped so hard that they were injured permanently. By Roman times, it was a tourist spectacle more famous for its blood-spattered grisliness — but in the era of Spartan greatness, it probably had a key purpose, and its timing was probably chosen based on the Moon’s presence on Orion’s back.

I have done the Headless One rite of course, because it’s hardly possible to be a magician these days without doing some of these kinds of experiments. But I think it’s worth thinking about at rite as having connections to the constellation Orion, and doing a parallel rite in which we acknowledge that we ourselves are NOT the Headless One, but that this is an entity which has died and been reborn perhaps a half-million times in the history of humanity — and that he does so on a schedule.

Recite the poem today or tomorrow, at sunrise, noon, dusk or midnight, and see if there’s something that sings back to you from the executioner’s block.

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4 comments

  1. In the last two thousand years, the fixed stars have moved about 24° ‘backwards’ due to precession: 0° Aries ‘should’ be in early Pisces, and would be if western astrology used a sidereal system.

    What this means is that in tropical calculations, Betelgeuse has ‘advanced’ from about 4° Gemini to about 28° Gemini in the last 2000 years.

  2. Do we know that this phenomenon, Orion ‘losing his head’ was taking place back before the Birth of Christ? I know stars have moved some in the intervening time.

    • In the last two thousand years, the fixed stars have moved about 24° ‘backwards’ due to precession: 0° Aries ‘should’ be in early Pisces, and would be if western astrology used a sidereal system.

      What this means is that in tropical calculations, Betelgeuse has ‘advanced’ from about 4° Gemini to about 28° Gemini in the last 2000 years.

      So this “Sun on Orion’s shoulders” phenomenon has likely happened for most of recorded history. And it will likely continue to happen in the semi-foreseeable future, because of where Orion is in the sky relative to earth (and the angle of our planet relative to the Sun).

      What is relatively new, is it happening this close to the summer solstice. So it may not be a solstice-specific event, but it’s still an observable phenomenon for most of the last 10,000 years, and probably another 10k years into the future — but not always or necessarily in synchronicity with a solstice, cross-quarter day, or equinox.

    • I just had another thought, which is (of course) that mythic or constellational characters who lose their heads may be of some significance to, say, Johannites, and that this may be a typology of the story of John the Baptist…

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