Mazzaroth or the Constellations by Frances Rolleston (1862)

Frances Rolleston’s fascinating and thoroughly researched accounts of constellations derived from Egyptian astronomy appear fresh and original even in the modern day. This edition includes over seventy charts and tables crucial for understanding the text.

Published gradually in the 1860s, these investigations of Egyptian astronomy are framed within the original 48 star constellation. By using this against known texts and inscriptions from Egypt, Rolleston was able to learn an immense amount not merely of how Egypt’s astronomers and scientists considered the stars, but how later societies and religions developed as a result of this early astronomy and astrology.

Egypt was the first ancient civilization to substantially study and map the constellations of stars and their movements. Many of the Bible’s references to the heavens are informed by Egyptian recordings, and the modern star signs and constellations we refer to today – which Rolleston has as her frame of understanding – began their existence in Egypt.

Rolleston boldly demonstrates how Egypt’s astronomy had a heavy bearing on the authors of both the Old and New Testaments. Simply put, Christianity would be a very different religion – perhaps unrecognizable from its present form – had Egypt not recorded and developed its system of astronomical observations and symbols. The very first constellation is ‘The Virgin’ – conceived by the Egyptians, the symbolic sign was an important religious concept.

The bulk of this text is an in-depth investigation of each constellation and its meaning. We traverse the twelve star signs of modern astronomy, together with the stories of the Bible. Not content with identifying the constellations’ interpretation in the Middle East, Rolleston also examines how they were viewed in ancient India and Scandinavia, noting the religious significance that arose in these civilizations.

In ancient societies the stars and astronomical phenomena were thought important in spiritual matters. Human society placed great meaning upon the stars and their patterns, believing that they were messages from the heavens. Rolleston’s study is superbly researched, and an underappreciated classic for its comprehensive account of the long marriage between the spiritual traditions, and the stars above.

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