Animalia Stellarum ~ Sagittarius the Centaur
e continue our jaunt through the Stars and their Earthly inspirations by considering the next sign, Sagittarius.
Sagittarius is the 9th sign in the zodiacal wheel, attuned to the element of Fire, and is a mutable sign. The Sun is in Sagittarius from November 21st through December 21st. Mutable signs always mark transition points in time and Sagittarius is no exception as it marks the turning from deep Autumn into early Winter. Represented by the Centaur – a mythic creature depicted as having the torso and upper body of a man and the hindquarters of a horse – Sagittarius is a sign of contradictions. Like its real life horse counterpart, no matter what else Sagittarius may be up to you will find that they are both social and highly sensitive, intelligent in mind and in body.
Centaur as Sagittarius: By Briana Saussy
Sagittarius, like its opposing sign of Gemini, has two distinct natures and these are reflected in its stories. The constellation that is sometimes simply known as “the archer” is widely agreed upon to be a centaur, a so-called mythic being that is half man and half horse and a being that in actuality expresses the beauty and power of natural horsemen and horsewomen, human beings who are especially gifted at riding upon, hunting from, and working with horses.
If you have been privileged to know such a person and watch them ride, then it is very clear where the image of the centaur came from – for there are some people who seem so at home upon a horse that they themselves become part of the horse and the horse becomes part of them. You can see how, even before we get into the myths proper, there is a dual nature within this sign so let us explore that more in-depth now.
The confusion begins with a name. Specifically, the story of Sagittarius is connected to two names. The first is Chiron. Known to astrologers for the asteroid that bears his title, in the ancient world Chiron was the best-known and best beloved of the Centaurs. Because of his divine parentage (no less than Zeus was his father) and his initial teachers Apollo and Artemis, he was markedly different than the other centaurs whose natures closely resembled that of the Satyrs (we will return to this but for now just make a note).
Whereas most Centaurs were rowdy, lascivious, wild, and rambunctious; Chiron was serious, wise, a remarkably gifted healer and astrologer, and was best known as a teacher to some of the most famous names in the Greek pantheon including Jason (of the Argonauts and the Golden Fleece fame), Peleus (the father of Achilles), Achilles (of the Trojan War), Perseus (the hero who defeated the gorgon Medusa), Asclepius (the most gifted of the ancient healers), Heracles (also known as Hercules the strongest man), Theseus (who defeated the Minotaur) and Ajax.
Chiron taught skills of horsemanship (obviously), taking aim and hunting successfully, sports and games, arbitration (one of his most famous rules was to never decide until both sides of an argument have been heard), astrology, and healing among many other subjects. Chiron is known as the “wounded healer” because he obtained a wound that he refused to heal.
He was shot with an arrow that had been tipped with a lethal poison. Some versions claim that one of Chiron’s students, usually Heracles, committed the act, and most tellings agree that the poison the arrow had been tipped in was one that could be used for healing and that Chiron had actually taught his students to make the concoction. He is the wounded healer because though he was immortal, Chiron’s decision to not heal his own wound allowed another famous figure, Prometheus, to gain freedom from his eternal punishment of being chained to a cliff and having a vulture peck out his liver, every single day, a sentence he was given for the crime of giving mortals the gift of fire. When Chiron willingly sacrificed himself and took Prometheus’ place the Gods were so impressed that they allowed him to ascend to the heavens and become the constellation Sagittarius, or did they?
Some of the tales claim that when Chiron ascended into the heavens he became the constellation Centaurus and then there are the stories that connect the star sign of Sagittarius to an entirely different name, that of the Satyr Crotus, the son of Pan.
A Satyr can sometimes be confused with a Centaur but where Centaurs have the upper body of a human and the lower body of a horse, Satyrs are most commonly depicted in ancient art as having the body of a man with the hooves, tail, and beard, and sometimes ears or other features, of a goat. In some depictions, they are a mix of both horse and goat which is interesting from an astro angle seeing as the zodiac sign next to Sagittarius is Capricorn, also known as the goat.
If Centaurs were known for being wild and lascivious, Satyrs were seen as positively raunchy. They were followers of both Pan and the God of Wine Dionysus and are ithyphallic (with penis always erect) in most artistic depictions. Satyrs call to mind the wild, unchecked, sexual urge. They also served a religious function during the ancient holy days very similar to what we might think of as Trickster. Their ribald jokes, sexual erections, and apparent inability to hold their liquor all made them seem absurd and ridiculous; but they were disciples of Dionysus and as such were honored during the major feast days through sacred drama. What we often think of as the Greek tragedies were plays compose for religious festivals honoring Dionysus. Before the three main tragic plays were performed the roads would be opened with a Satyr play – a shorter, humorous, performance that both poked fun of and celebrated the simple pleasures of life: good food, good drink, good sex, and joy.
Back to Sagittarius’ other source: Crotus was one of the better known Satyrs and was most beloved by the Muses. He is credited with inventing archery and the art of hunting animals. Crotus lived with the Muses (Calliope, Clio, Euterpe, Erato, Melpomene, Polyhymnia, Terpsichore, Thalia, and Urania) who oversaw various art forms and it is they who requested that he ascend to the stars as the sign of Sagittarius because he invented applause to thank them and celebrate their brilliance.
So let’s pull this all together. We have two radically different potential sources for the sign of Sagittarius. Strong voices in our culture would tell us that we have to pick one or the other story in order to really get Sagittarius but we know better, we will come to understand the sign best through both tales for Sagittarius is both the wise healer and the vibrant Trickster.
When we get to know Sagittarius in our own charts and among our friends and family members it all becomes clear. Both Crotus and Chiron are at play here. In Sagittarius’ love of being outdoors, typically casual attitudes towards relationships, love, and sex, and love of a good time and party (remember the sign is also Jupiter ruled) we see the Satyr Crotus and son of Pan showing up. Sagittarius is known as the free spirit of the zodiac and if that doesn’t sound Satyr-like I am not sure what does! And yet there is more to the story. For Sagittarius is also the sign and sector of the chart that rules religion, philosophy, and teaching, and truth-telling. In these areas we see the influence of the beloved teacher Chiron. We also see the aspect of the wounded healer and can read that as part of the stellar narrative – the wound is received/discovered in Scorpio and then with Sagittarius as our guide we learn the ways of wisdom and the wild that allow for the healing process to begin.
How do we start that healing process?
With Sagittarius, the Centaur, Satyr, and Horse as our guides the answer is simple: saddle up and take aim at what matters most.
Centaur As Animal: By Sara Magnuson
We have learned that the Centaur is a creature of two types, typically Man and Horse, but what does that mean? What is it like to be part Horse and how can that be unified with the nature of Humans? To contemplate what it means to be as-one with this magnificent creature we must try to understand their physicality and senses, their intelligence, and intuitive abilities.
Belonging to the family Equidae, which dates to over 50 million years ago (mya), Horses as we know them to look very different from their ancient relatives. Of the genus Equus, Horses, Zebras, and Donkeys are the only still-living relatives of the Equidae family. What we recognize fully as Horse today originated in North America about 4 mya and migrated across land-bridges to Eurasia, only to eventually circle back to North America. The last prehistoric North American Horses, the true “Wild Horses,” died out about 10,000 years ago, but by then they had spread across the globe. The Horses that roam our country today are actually feral horses brought to North America in the early 1500s by the Spanish. They have been left to run wild and free for centuries, creating their own free-ranging herds.
The horse is an intuitive, sensitive creature, as it must be to meld with the human form, but before we get into that let’s get a picture of their physical nature. A horse can live up to 30 years and is of great stature – measuring 4-6 ft tall, not including the neck and head, and weighing between 800 to over 2000 lbs with more than 60% of their body mass being muscle. Horse’s body temperature runs hotter than ours and their hearts beat much slower. As big and strong as Horse seems to us humans, in the animal world they are considered prey and their senses reflect that.
A horse has the largest eyes of any currently living land mammal, one on each side of their head giving them almost 360° vision, yet overall their vision is only slightly better than humans. Their big eyes give them the advantage of detecting the smallest of movements; a much needed impression for a prey animal. Being red-green color blind, they are good at seeing greens and blues, which is an advantage to an herbivore like Horse. Horse’s sense of taste is highly attuned and their tongue can identify toxic plants, as well as distinguish between sweet, salty, bitter, and sour. Closely connected to taste, their ability to smell is average, but they possess the Jacobson’s Organ (humans do not) that allow them to detect pheromones. The horse has excellent hearing with each of their two ears being able to rotate independently up to 180°. These sensitive beings can hear ultrasonic frequencies (think Bats) as well as very low frequencies such as the low growls of a predator or the rumbling of another herd moving in Horse’s direction. The ability to detect poisonous plants and the pheromones of other creatures, the possession of radar-like hearing, and a highly acute visual sensitivity to movement are adaptations that have allowed a prey animal like Horse to survive for millennia.
The body of Horse is extremely delicate and responsive. Covered with hair, Horse is so sensitive that they can feel a fly on just one strand. Imagine the sensitivity of your fingertips, but all over your whole body. The manes and tails of Horse have been (and still are) used for a myriad of things – from pottery and jewelry to fabrics and brushes to weaponry and musical instruments. The horse also makes a variety of sounds, each labeled with unique terminology – whinnying, neighing, nickering, squealing, groaning, blowing, snorting, etc. Through body language and their senses of touch and sound, Horse communicates their moods and preferences to each other, as well as to other animals, including humans.
Left to their own natural ways, Horse is a highly social herd animal that doesn’t like to be isolated. There’s a pecking order within the ranks of a herd and smaller bands are formed comprised of one adult male stallion, several females (with a dominant mare), and their offspring. The dominant mare of the whole herd knows where all the good resources are, like food and water, and oversees the daily routine of the group while keeping the general peace. The stallion stays on the edges marking territory, offering protection, and “herding the herd” together. Domesticated Horses often live in herds that have been formed artificially by owners and breeders (or no herd at all) so these natural relationships and behaviors can exhibit a great deal of variation.
While domestication can be controversial, it is what brings Horse into union with Man. An exact date is unknown for the taming and training of Horse, but evidence suggests this relationship began at least 5000 years ago. Horse’s first function with humans was to provide work-labor and transportation, which was crucial in the development of civilizations and agriculture. Once this dynamic was established Horse became an integral part of various aspects of human life. No longer used solely for pulling plows or chariots, Horse’s skills became an asset in wars, sports, products, entertainment, and even therapy.
As Briana mentioned at the beginning, those humans that have learned how to communicate and synchronize their bodies with Horse show us that we do not simply control Horse; there has been a process of adaptation and learning on the part of Man as well. You can’t just jump on any old Horse and start riding around like you own the place. Horse allows you to ride and it is at Horse’s discretion to deny you this privilege. In our modern world, we have made it so that we primarily see only the well-behaved side of Horse (the teacher/Chiron side, if you will), putting them to work doing what they are skilled at. But just like humans, Horses are emotional, social, curious, playful animals (the Satyr side) that form companionship attachments with other creatures. Serious horse riders know that tending to the emotional/social connection is the only way to have a healthy relationship based on mutual respect. Horse must have trust and faith in its rider and the rider must do the same. If one or the other exerts too much control or behaves negatively, both feel the consequences, and the dynamic is damaged. Horses and Humans have many of the same needs and so it makes sense that these two animals can so easily merge into one magnificent, exalted creature like the Centaur.
Call on Sagittarius When:
- You need to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
- You are considering teaching as a profession or part of your work in the world.
- You want to continue your education – especially higher education.
- You need to adopt a more detached and objective attitude towards matters of the heart.
- You have an adventure, especially those that take place outside.
- You need to learn something deeply and weave it into your philosophy of life.
- You are ready to have a party!
- You need to connect with the Wild.
- You are ready to pursue wisdom.
- You want more spiritual and/or religious devotion in your life.
- You need more freedom.
- You are ready to take aim.
Be Wary Of:
- Flakiness – Sagittarius can sometimes be too easy-going and forget about previous commitments and schedules.
- Rigidity – when coming from the place of truth-teller and religious disciple Sagittarius can be extremely fixed on their understanding of all that is right, wrong, and in-between.
- Commitment phobia – Freedom is THE key theme for Sagittarius so anything or anyone too clingy will get the boot.
- Over-indulgence – Jupiter-ruled Sagittarius has a hard time knowing when enough is enough sometimes can go overboard.
- Emotional aloofness – Sagittarius loves relating to people but sometimes can hold issues that some find very triggering in a completely objective, overly mental, manner that does not sit well with others.
Questions to Ponder:
Sagittarius shows up in everyone’s chart – there is no such thing as “I don’t have Sagittarius” because it is a cluster of stars in the sky and it is always there. Wherever Sagittarius occurs in your chart these questions will help you get to know it better.
- Where am I naturally gifted at healing myself and/or others?
- What is my relationship to all that is wild and untamed – what has it taught/continues to teach me?
- What does freedom mean to me? Where do I feel free? Where do I feel trapped?
- What is my relationship to play and seriousness?
- What would I most like to celebrate?
- What am I ready to learn?
- What am I ready to teach?
- What is wisdom for me and where do I find it?
Active Imagination Journey:
The mythology of Centaur is based on the reality of expert horse riders; men and women who moved so harmoniously with Horse that they gave the impression of a single unified being. Those with the gift of horsemanship are seen as wise and powerful because they can work intuitively and cooperatively with the elements of freedom and wildness. This meditation will allow you to encounter Horse and ask for its guidance in exploring the untamed places where we are perceptive, powerful, truthful, wild, and liberated.
Sit comfortably and take a deep breath.
Close your eyes and listen to your breathing. Make each inhale and exhale a little fuller and deeper than the last.
Feel your body slowly relaxing; feel each muscle letting go, your head; your chest; your arms and hands; your stomach; your hips, legs, and feet; until all you are focused on is your breathing. Slowly in and slowly out.
See that you are walking on a smooth dirt path that is taking you through fields of green grass, as far as you can see. It is dusk and you are heading North. It is quiet and still and peaceful. Notice your steps, your heartbeat, and your breath all in rhythm together.
The path curves and you see that the trees have grown together to form an archway above the path. As you approach, pause, and take a deep breath. Feel any fear or worry leave your body and pass through the archway feeling strong and unafraid of what lies beyond.
You find yourself at the center of a four-way crossroads. Stand calmly in the center of the crossroads and feel the beauty of this sacred and powerful place. Feel that this is the center of all things. The place where all possibilities meet. Take a deep breath and feel at one with the Great Mystery.
Standing in the center of the crossroads, you are facing North, with the East to your right and the West to your left. Turn around to focus your attention behind you, to the South. You see that this path leads into a beautiful, warm, painted desert. You can feel the sun on your face and know that this is the womb of the element of Fire. Although it may feel wild and untamed, you are drawn to the heat and begin walking down this path into the unknown desert.
The sights, sounds, and smells are tangible to you now. Breathe in the aromas, feel the air of the place on your skin. Listen to the sounds of life here. Look carefully around you and observe closely your immediate surroundings. Introduce yourself to this place. Convey that you are here as a caretaker and a protector. Spend some time here, walk around, explore what’s right around you, and get to know what’s here.
Find a spot that looks inviting to you and sit down. As you sit, notice how relaxed and at ease, you feel in this setting; notice how comfortable it is to be in this spot, right now; notice how much you care about this space and all its inhabitants. Breathe deeply. Listen.
You hear something moving nearby and look slowly toward the sound. A noble, glorious Horse emerges before you. Greet the animal and sit very still. Focus on the calm rhythmic beating of your heart and take slow breaths. Allow Horse to circle you, smell you, sense you. After a time, and in slow gentle motion, reach out to put your hand on Horse’s body and it moves closer to you in agreement. Notice how it feels, how it smells, what it sounds and looks like. Sit together for a moment in silence.
Convey to Horse that you are here as a friend and an ally. Ask respectfully for its guidance and promise to be trustworthy. Tell Horse that you are open to learning new ways and are ready to explore the uncharted territories within. Open your soul and listen to what Horse has to share with you.
When you are ready, thank Horse for its wisdom and generosity. Assure it that you will carry its traits and lessons proudly and with honor. Remember that you can always return to this place again. Wish Horse a safe and joyful life as it returns from where it came. Remain seated in this place for a moment and reflect on your encounter. Think about how you will carry this knowledge with you.
Slowly stand up and see the path that will lead you back to the center of the crossroads. As you reach the center, notice your breath and pause here to center yourself in your new-found wisdom. Face the threshold of the crossroads with a new understanding and sense of purpose. Take a long deep breath
When you are ready to return, the archway of trees and the path you originally walked opens before you. Follow it, going back the way you came, through fields of green grass as far as you can see. As you walk, you are aware of your steps, your heartbeat, and your breath in rhythm together. Become aware of your presence in your physical body. Allow your mind to gently return to the present moment where you are sitting comfortably, listening to your breath. When you feel ready, open your eyes.
Altar and Ritual:
In honor of easy-breezy Sagittarius this is a pretty straightforward and simple ritual.
Begin by contemplating what you really need to aim for and at right now – what requires your undivided attention and focus, what have you been afraid of pursuing full out even though you know you need to
Write it down. It can be a word, a phrase, or a 10-page letter – totally up to you.
As you write include what obstacle(s) have kept you from aiming true in this endeavor.
For now, just note them, call up the Sagittarius objectivity, and don’t get down on yourself or judge, just notice.
Now, with your petition in hand, go out into the natural world somewhere wild. Go somewhere where once upon a time great herds of horses ran over the ground with their manes flying behind them. This might be a park in the middle of a concrete city, it might be an arboretum or in the middle of a beloved wood.
Bring an offering.
You can bring whatever you like but knowing Centaurs and Satyrs as I do I would recommend some or all of the following: figs, honey, cream, goat cheese, good red wine, and sage.
Bring a spade and a container to hold a small amount of earth in.
Walk around until you find the just right place.
Say a blessing to and for all that is wild and free and offer up the goods you have brought.
Ask for permission to scoop up a bit of good earth so that you may apply the knowledge of the wild to the wisdom you need in taking proper aim.
Once you have received permission scoop up a small amount of soil.
Conclude with any final offerings and thanksgivings.
Carry your earth back home and place it on a plate or bowl in your working space.
Set a candle in the center of this sacred earth, I recommend orange if you work with colors, otherwise white or natural beeswax work great.
Anoint the candle in any way that you like, affirming and acknowledging that this candle is opening the road so that the wisdom of the wild can be applied to the obstacle(s) that keep you from taking true aim at what matters most.
Choose a number of days to perform this ceremony – it can be 3, 7, or 14 depending on the obstacles you are dealing with – how big they are and how many there are.
Divide your candle into the appropriate sections – you can do this by sticking pins in the candle or simply eyeballing it. For instance, if you are working over 7 days then you will burn 7 segments of the candle and so on.
You can begin this work at any time in the lunar cycle and day, usually, I do this at sunrise.
On the first daylight your candle and then take a bit of the dirt you have collected and blend it into the dirt in your front or back yard. If you do not have a front or back yard, blend the dirt into the soil of a living plant in your home.
As you mix the earth in, ask that you be able to apply the wisdom of all that is wild and free to your particular situation so that your obstacles may be removed and your aim may be true.
Repeat this every day for the number of days you have chosen.
On the final day blend in the rest of the remaining dirt.
Take some time to reflect on all that you have done and for each obstacle you noted pick a practical action that will help you remove that obstacle and have true aim.
Once you have picked your actions, go do them.
About my Co-Author:
Sara Magnuson was the co-founder of Candlesmoke Chapel, a purveyor of spiritual supplies and provider of various spiritual services that were in business from 2009-2019. Her personal practice is eclectic, animistic, ancestral, and based in the messages of Nature and its role in how we move through this world.