by: X. Helia Allegra
1. TAURUS: AN ASTRONOMICAL PROFILE
Taurus, the Bull, is represented in the sky by the upper half of its body; with hindquarters receding into deep space. The front legs are bent under his body. As Manilius says, “The might Bull is lame; his leg turns under; Taurus bends as wearied by the Plough”.
Although the constellation has only its head, front legs, and torso, the sign of Taurus is rich in stellar components. Taurus is ruled by the planet Venus, and her gracious influence is fitting. Manilius describes the constellation as “dives puellis”--”rich in maidens”, for within the constellation’s half-body are the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters, and the Hyades, the seven daughters of Atlas and Aethra and half-sisters of the Pleiades.
A closer look at the star cluster, Hyades, reveals that it forms the great “V”, marking the head of the Bull. It is one of the closest open star clusters to Earth, and therefore appears large, bright, and is easily seen. With the magnification of a field telescope or binoculars, one discovers within the one billion-year-old group many bright stars, including the Bull’s brightest star, Aldebaran. Although Aldebaran is not a true member of the Hyades, it is a foreground star in the same line of vision with the cluster. Aldebaran is clearly visible with the naked eye, as it is approximately three times brighter than Polaris, the North Star. Aldebaran is considered the “Eye” of the Bull, and appears red in color.
The Pleiades form the back of the Great Bull’s neck. It is another open cluster, younger than the Hyades (approximately 10 million years old), which is easily viewable with the naked eye and even more majestic as seen with binoculars. This cluster is shaped like a dipper. Between five and seven stars can be seen with the unaided eye, yet under minimal magnification, this number jumps to nearly one hundred in a compact area. Dives puellis, indeed!
The Bull’s horns are very long and extend far from its body. The tip of the Northern horn reaches the constellation Auriga, the Charioteer. Near the tip of the Southern horn lies the flame-shaped Crab Nebula, a supernova remnant full of stardust and fragments.
Taurus is a Winter constellation, viewed optimally in December.
2. THE SYMBOLISM OF TAURUS
Physically speaking, the sign of Taurus represents the body parts it governs: the neck, throat, and shoulders. This symbol can also be considered the face and horns of the Bull. Another, more commonly used glyph illustrates the power of fertility associated with the sign: a full moon with a crescent moon attached to it. The full moon relates to the Celestial Mother, representing growth, fruition/manifestation, and fecundity. The upturned crescent moon, or cup, is an explanation of Taurus’ natural activity--power and wealth derived through the force of will. This is the gathering of energy in concrete form in order for the individual to grow even stronger through his/her (material) abundance, symbolized by the circle. This “moon” also symbolizes human sympathy: Taurus’s wealth also lies in a sensitivity and compassion for those in need. The upturned cup, be it filled with compassion or material wealth, frequently overflows with those born under the influence of this fixed-earth sign.
3. THE CLASSICAL MYTH OF THE GREAT BULL
The myth of the bull begins with Jupiter, greatest of gods, ruler of mortals as well as the heavens. Jupiter had a very libidinous nature as well as a huge romantic streak. The great god had many love affairs, wives, and mistresses. One such affair involved the beautiful Princess Europa, daughter of the King of Phoenicia.
Europa grew up in a very protective, nurturing environment, which sheltered her not only from possible danger but also from the knowledge of what life was truly like outside the palace. One night she had a vision in a dream. An unknown woman came to her, and said with an embrace: “I shall bring you to Jupiter, for you are destined to become his beloved.”
The next day, Europa and her handmaidens were picking hyacinths and roses in a grassy meadow by the sea. Jupiter saw Europa in the field and was captivated by her beauty. He was determined to win her love, and wished to do so quickly.
The Greatest of gods knew that a girl as innocent and unassuming as Europa would be startled by him, should he appear to her in his own god-form. Jupiter transformed himself into a Bull, so he could walk among the maidens without causing alarm. He became no ordinary bull, but a majestic white Bull with opulent horns and a silver crescent moon in the middle of his forehead.
Europa was transfixed by this beautiful, gentle Bull, and began to caress him. As if under a spell, she climbed upon his back. This was exactly what Jupiter wanted, for he immediately sprang into the air and carried her off to the island of Crete. There, he returned to his true likeness and professed his love for the Princess. She was taken by his declaration and accepted his advances. Jupiter and Europa became lovers under the boughs of a large tree.
Soon after their union, Venus appeared to Europa to confess she had been the woman in the prophetic dream. She told Europa that the continent where she and Jupiter had consummated their love would bear her name (Europe). Jupiter had three sons by Europe (including Minos of Crete) and honored their courtship by placing the Bull in the heavens, as the constellation Taurus.