Thursday, 12 October 2017

Burning rolling wheel

"At Lower Konz, a village situated on a hillside overlooking the Moselle, the midsummer festival used to be celebrated as follows. A quantity of straw was collected on the top of the steep Stromberg Hill. Every inhabitant, or at least every householder, had to contribute his share of straw to the pile. At nightfall the whole male population, men and boys, mustered on the top of the hill; the women and girls were not allowed to join them, but had to take up their position at a certain spring half-way down the slope. On the summit stood a huge wheel completely encased in some of the straw which had been jointly contributed by the villagers; the rest of the straw was made into torches. From each side of the wheel the axletree projected about three feet, thus furnishing handles to the lads who were to guide it in its descent. The mayor of the neighboring town of Sierck, who always received a basket of cherries for his services, gave the signal; a lighted torch was applied to the wheel, and as it burst into flame, two young fellows, strong-limbed and swift of foot, seized the handles and began running with it down the slope. A great shout went up. Every man and boy waved a blazing torch in the air, and took care to keep it alight so long as the wheel was trundling down the hill. The great object of the young men who guided the wheel was to plunge it blazing into the water of the Moselle; but they rarely succeeded in their efforts, for the vineyards which cover the greater part of the declivity impeded their progress, and the wheel was often burned out before it reached the river. As it rolled past the women and girls at the spring, they raised cries of joy which were answered by the men on the top of the mountain; and the shouts were echoed by the inhabitants of neighbouring villages who watched the spectacle from their hills on the opposite bank of the Moselle. If the fiery wheel was successfully conveyed to the bank of the river and extinguished in the water, the people looked for an abundant vintage that year."

This is a passage from the book "The Golden Bough" by James George Frazer.

The book then goes to say that similar custom of rolling a burning wheel down a hill side existed in many other places in Europe:

At Eisenach on the fourth Sunday in Lent young people used to fasten a straw-man, representing Death, to a wheel, which they trundled to the top of a hill. Then setting fire to the figure they allowed it and the wheel to roll down the slope.

In Germany, Austria, and Switzerland at the same season similar customs have prevailed. Thus in the Eifel Mountains, Rhenish Prussia, on the first Sunday in Lent, a great wheel was made of straw and dragged by three horses to the top of the hill. Thither the village boys marched at nightfall, set fire to the wheel, and sent it rolling down the slope.

In the Rhön Mountains, situated on the borders of Hesse and Bavaria, the people used to march to the top of a hill or eminence on the first Sunday in Lent. Children and lads carried torches, brooms daubed with tar, and poles swathed in straw. A wheel, wrapped in combustibles, was kindled and rolled down the hill;

In neighboring villages of Hesse, between the Rhön and the Vogel Mountains, it is thought that wherever the burning wheels roll, the fields will be safe from hail and storm.

Bonfires were lit in almost all the hamlets of Poitou on the Eve of St. John. People marched round them thrice, carrying a branch of walnut in their hand. Shepherdesses and children passed sprigs of mullein (verbascum) and nuts across the flames; the nuts were supposed to cure toothache, and the mullein to protect the cattle from sickness and sorcery. When the fire died down people took some of the ashes home with them, either to keep them in the house as a preservative against thunder or to scatter them on the fields for the purpose of destroying corn-cockles and darnel. In Poitou also it used to be customary on the Eve of St. John to trundle a blazing wheel wrapt in straw over the fields to fertilise them.

In Wales three or nine different kinds of wood and charred faggots carefully preserved from the last midsummer were deemed necessary to build the bonfire, which was generally done on rising ground. In the Vale of Glamorgan a cart-wheel swathed in straw used to be ignited and sent rolling down the hill. If it kept alight all the way down and blazed for a long time, an abundant harvest was expected.

In Switzerland, also, it is or used to be customary to kindle bonfires on high places on the evening of the first Sunday in Lent, and the day is therefore popularly known as Spark Sunday. In some parts of the canton also they used to wrap old wheels in straw and thorns, put a light to them, and send them rolling and blazing down hill.

All over Northern and Central Germany, from Altmark and Anhalt on the east, through Brunswick, Hanover, Oldenburg, the Harz district, and Hesse to Westphalia the Easter bonfires still blaze simultaneously on the hill-tops. In some places tar-barrels or wheels wrapped in straw used to be set on fire, and then sent rolling down the hillside.

In Swabia, lads and lasses, hand in hand, leap over the midsummer bonfire, praying that the hemp may grow three ells high, and they set fire to wheels of straw and send them rolling down the hill. At Obermedlingen, the “fire of heaven,” as it was called, was made on St. Vitus’s Day, the day of Svetovid. On the summit of a mountain, a cart-wheel, smeared with pitch and plaited with straw, was fastened on a pole twelve feet high, the top of the pole being inserted in the nave of the wheel. The wheel was then set on fire.

In Lower Austria bonfires are kindled on the heights, and the boys caper round them, brandishing lighted torches drenched in pitch. Whoever jumps thrice across the fire will not suffer from fever within the year. Cart-wheels are often smeared with pitch, ignited, and sent rolling and blazing down the hillsides.

All over Bohemia bonfires still burn on Midsummer Eve.  Sometimes an old cart-wheel is smeared with resin, ignited, and sent rolling down the hill.

The Golden Bough does not mention it, but similar customs are also known from other Central and Eastern European Slavic lands:

In Slovakia, the Midsummer Night is called "Vajana". The root of this word is verb "váľať" meaning "to roll". Basically Midsummer Night is the night when fiery wheels are rolled down the slopes of hills.

In Belarus, Ukraine and Russia one of the solar-fire rituals performed during the Kupala Night (Midsummer Night) was to roll a flaming wheel down a hill and into a river or lake at the bottom, if there was one. The wheel symbolized the wheel (circle) of the seasons, as well as the sun-disk. In this ritual, the wheel was stuffed with straw or hay (the yellowish color of which resembled the sun) so that the wheel itself was barely visible, and in many cases an axle protruded a meter or so on each side, which people used to guide it down the hill. The idea was for it to roll all the way to the bottom, into the water if any; if it did not roll all the way down, the harvest would be bad. A wheel was also burned on a long pole. Wheels were also put on high poles and then burned either alone or a bonfire was piled around the pole with the wheel and then then whole thing was set on fire.

In "THE LITHUANIANS, an ethnic portrait" by Juozas Kudirka we read that "The Midsummer Day is a festival of simple people, connected with the veneration of fire. Young girls adorn their heads with flower wreaths. A tall pole with a wooden wheel soaked in tar or filled with birch bark is hoisted at the top of the highest hill in the vicinity. Men whose names are Jonas (John) set the wheels on fire and make bonfires around it. In some places a second pole is hoisted with flowers and herbs. Young people dance round the fire, sing songs about rye, play games, men try to jump over the fire. The burning wheels on the poles are rolled down the hill into a river or a lake at its foot, men jumping over it all along."

I would like to talk about this interesting ritual. 

First I would like to say that I believe that this was originally a ritual performed only on the summer solstice night. In most parts of Europe it was still performed on that day or on the Christian saint day which replaced Summer solstice day as a holy day. The reason why this ritual was recorded to have been performed in some parts of Europe during Lent, is because Christian clergy tried to remove the original meaning from this ritual by moving it to another part of the year. 

But what was the original meaning of this ritual? 

We know that wheel is a symbol directly linked with sun. But why is the burning wheel rolled down the mountain? 

The most popular proposed explanation is that the burning wheel was rolled down the mountain on the eve of summer solstice to symbolize the decrease of the sun's declination angle which begins on that night. 

The variation of the declination angle over the year is represented by a sinusoidal line. We can see how the decrease of the declination angle can indeed be represented by the image of the sun rolling down the slope of the hill.   

The effect of the Declination variation is the variation of the height of the point the sun reaches in the sky at noon. The sun reaches the highest point in the sky at noon on the day of the summer solstice. From that day, the height of the point the sun reaches at noon gets smaller and smaller, until at the winter solstice, the sun reaches the lowest point in the sky at noon. Then the process reverses. 

So maybe this is what our ancestors wanted to symbolically represent by rolling the burning wheel down the slope of a hill. The decrease of the height of the point the sun reaches in the sky at noon. 

But there is another possibility. 

In my post "The thundering sun god" I talked about St Ilija the Thunderer. Serbian folk tradition says that every year St Ilija the Thunderer gets so angry, that he wants to  "burn the whole world down". As I already explained in my post "Two crosses", the earth climatic, vegetative cycle lags behind the solar cycle. Becauese of this, the 21st of June, the mid summer, is the day of the maximum sun light. But it is the 2nd of August the day that marks the end of summer, that is the day of maximum sun heat. And this is the day when Serbs celebrate St Ilia the Thunderer. The period three days before and the three days after the 2nd of August, is in South Slavic tradition called Kresovi meaning Fires. These are the days of wild fires and droughts. These days are also known as the dog days, because these are the days when the dog star Sirius is in the sky with the sun.

But thankfully "Ilia the thunderer" does not burn the earth. Every year, on his day, the 2nd of August, the day of St Ilija the Thunderer, he gets persuaded by his wife, Ognjena Marija (Fiary Mary) to calm down. In Serbia there is a saying: "Od svetog Ilije sunce sve milije" which means "From St Ilija the sun starts getting kinder, milder, gentler". The first part of the 2nd of August is considered summer and the second is considered to be Autumn. And thus every year on the 2nd of August the summer ends and the autumn begins.

The 2nd of August is also the day of Perun, Slavic storm god. 

As I said already, we know that wheel is a symbol directly linked with sun. But it is also linked with thunder and fire. We can see this through the symbols of Svetovid and Perun: their wheels. The wheel of Perun is "like" the wheel of Svetovid. It is actually the fiery version of the wheel of Svetovid. 

During the second part of Summer, between mid summer, the day of Svetovid, and the end of summer, the day of Perun, the sun wheel, turns into the fiery wheel. This is symbolic representation of the effect of the ever increasing heat and drought of the second part of the summer. 

But just when the world is about to be burned to cinder by the fiery sun of the late summer, Perun arrives and kills Veles. Veles, the dragon who stole Perun's celestial cows (rain clouds), is the late summer's heat that causes drought. Perun represents the first autumn storms which finally end the drought and ensure that the crops will survive and that the harvest will be successful. The rain water extinguishes sun's fire. Autumn begins. 

Now let's have a look at the ritual again. 

The wheel is lit up on top of the hill. This is Summer solstice sun just starting to get really hot. The wheel is rolled down the hill. As the wheel rolls down the wheel's fire gets stronger and stronger because of the increased air circulation around the wheel. The people handling the wheel aim to plunge the now madly burning wheel into the river which flows below the hill and extinguish the fire. 

I believe that this was actually a magic ritual. 

The rolling of a burning wheel down the hill represents the fact that the sun's temperature increases in the second part of summer even though the days are getting shorter. 
The fact that the wheel is often rolled down the side of the hill which ends in a river or a lake and that it is seen as a good luck if the burning wheel reaches the water is very significant. It shows that the ritual is actually a magic ritual performed in order to insure the "extinguishing of the sun's fire" of the late summer by the water of the autumn rains.

I think this is very very interesting. What do you think?

By the way if you know of any other place in Europe when the same ritual was performed which I didn't list, please let me know so I can update my post. 

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

The sunny part of the year

In my post "Two crosses" I talked about the solar and vegetative crosses. The Solar cross marks the cardinal solar points: solstices and equinoxes. The vegetative cross marks cardinal climatic points, the beginnings of vegetative seasons in the northern hemisphere. 

The Earth's, climate, vegetative cross is marked in Celtic calendar by four quarter days and in Serbian calendar by four major saint days, which are just Christianized old Celtic quarter days. 

Celtic calendar:

1. Imbolc- the beginning of the spring
2. Bealtaine - the beginning of the summer
3. Lughnasa - the beginning of the autumn
4. Samhain - the beginning of the winter

Serbian calendar:

1. St Sava - the beginning of the spring
2. St George - the beginning of the summer
3. St Ilija - the beginning of the autumn
4. St Mitar - the beginning of the winter

In both Serbian and Celtic calendars, the year was also divided into two periods:

The white, light, sunny, warm, dry part of the year, which starts on the 6th of May Beltane (Djurdjevdan, St Georges day) and ends on the 5th of November Samhain (Mitrovdan, St Martin's day). 

The black, dark, earthy, cold, wet part of the year, which starts on the 5th of November Samhain (Mitrovdan, St Martin's day) and ends on the 6th of May Beltane (Djurdjevdan, St Georges day). 

In the northern hemisphere

The white period consists of summer and autumn, the fertile part of the year, the bountiful part of the year, the part of the year that yields fruits of the earth, the time of feasts. 

The dark period consists of winter and spring, the infertile part of the year, the poor part of the year, the part of the year that does not yield fruits of the earth, the time of hunger. 

Now interestingly, the two boundary dates that separate the white and dark part of the year fall in the middle of the zodiac signs of Taurus (6th of May Beltane, Djurdjevdan, St Georges day) and Scorpio (5th of November Samhain, Mitrovdan, St Martin's day).

So the white, light, sunny, warm, dry, bountiful part of the year (summer and autumn) starts in Taurus and ends in Scorpio, and the black, dark, earthy, cold, wet, poor part of the year (winter and spring) starts in Scorpio and ends in Taurus.

In both Slavic and Celtic tradition the white part of the year is ruled by the sun god which is in Slavic mythology known as Belbog and in Celtic mythology as Belen, Belenos. Beli. All these god names come from the root bel, beli, beo which means white. White god, the god of the white part of the year. 

This god is represented as a man with the lion's head. Why? The man with the lion's head is the representation of the anthropomorphic sun. Sun is the strongest in Leo. The middle of Leo is also the middle of the white part of the year, half way between the Taurus and Scorpio. 

I wrote about this in my post "Radegost - welcome guest".  

This is one of the idols from the Prillwickie idols group found in Slavic part of South Baltic region. 

Now interestingly, this idol has a snake coiled around it. Why? The snake is the symbol of the sun's heat. Snakes come out of the underground when the air and soil get warm enough. They stay outside during the late spring, summer and early autumn and during that that time they are visible to people. 

This is why snake is a symbol of sun's heat and is in Slavic mythology directly linked with the sun as it's enemy, the one who "sucks the sun's heat out" and causes the arrival of winter. I wrote about this in my posts "Chimera" and "You will trample the great lion and the serpent".

Now imagine you wanted to symbolically represent this: "The white part of the year". What is "the white part of the year"? "The white part of the year" is:

1. the period of the year when plants grow and give fruit
2. the period of the year which is sunny
3. the period of the year which is warm (period of the year when warmth brings snakes out)
4. the period of the year which is dominated by the sun god
5. the period of the year between the zodiac sign of Taurus (bull) and Scorpio (scorpion)

So knowing what "the white part of the year is" you might symbolically represent it like this:

Tree, sun, bull, scorpion, snakes, man in the sky with sun as it's head.

Now have a look at this cylinder seal from Mesopotamia, dated to Late 3rd millennium BCE (Ur III period22nd to 21st century BC). British Museum. BM 122947

On the British Museum web page we can read that "design shows a palm-tree with humped bull (zebu), serpent, scorpion and recumbent human figure at the top". That's it. No explanation what the image represents. 

Let's see. We have: tree, sun, bull, scorpion, snakes, man in the sky with sun as it's head...

I wonder what this image could represent??? Maybe the vegetative season, sunny season, warm season, period between Taurus and Scorpio, the period dominated by the sun god, the white part of the year???

Now here is a biiiiiiig problem with this interpretation. Officially "The division of the ecliptic into the zodiacal signs originates in Babylonian ("Chaldean") astronomy during the first half of the 1st millennium BC." And this seal from Ur dates to the late 3rd millennium BC...

But as I already wrote in my posts "Ram and Bull", "Fishes", "Goat"... it is most likely that Zodiac is not a circle of stellar markers, but a circle of solar markers, marking significant natural events which occur every year at the same time. And that it is much much older than the Chaldean stellar zodiac. Chaldeans did nothing more than map constellations onto already existing symbols. And here on this seal we have another proof that we seriously have to reexamine what we think we know about zodiac...

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Fasting against god

Fasting  is typically a religious act; an individual deprives themselves of food to concentrate the mind better on God. However, in ancient Ireland, fasting was not only religious. It also had another purpose. The ancient Irish law books explain that a person could fast against a man who had injured him in some way and who was of a higher social rank.

The wronged individual went to the wrong-doers house and sat outside from dawn to dusk refusing to eat. By so doing he brought bad luck or ‘pollution’ to his opponent. The one fasted against then had two options. He could either admit his wrong and redress it – the fasting would stop and social harmony would be restored. Or he could counter fast to ward off the curse.

There is a story recorded in the Tripartite Life of St Patrick which describes how the saint forced God to grant him his requests through an act of ritual fasting. 

Patrick's requests were:

1. That the Irish people would not live permanently under oppression
2. That the country would be submerged seven years before the end of the world and so be spared the final devastation
3. That Patrick himself would be allowed to judge all the Irish people on the Last Day.

When Patrick asked God to grant him these wishes, God originally refused. The saint then, following the ancient Irish law, decides to fast against God, in order to force him to change his mind. 

St Patrick went to Croagh Patrick in County Mayo, the holy mountain of Ireland. There he climbed to the top, sat down and told a passing angel that he would not leave the mountain "till I am dead or until all my requests are granted".

The Tripartite Life of St Patrick then goes on to say that Patrick stayed on top of the Croagh Patrick without drink and without food, "with much badness of mind" and "singing malicious psalms" when God decides to test him, from Shrove Saturday to Easter Saturday. 

At the end of these forty days and forty nights God, faced with his servant’s fasting, gives in and grants Patrick his wishes...

Do you know of any similar customs involving fasting?

Now here is an interesting bit. According to the ancient Irish law: "The wronged individual went to the wrong-doers house and sat outside from dawn to dusk refusing to eat." Patrick went to Croagh Patrick, the mountain which was holy to Crom Dubh, the pre Christian Irish god. So technically Patrick was fasting in front of Crom Dubh's house...

Why? Who was Patrick really fasting against?

Tuesday, 26 September 2017


Last night RTE (Irish national tv station) broadcasted the following report in their main evening news:

A hillwalker in west Kerry has made a stunning discovery which connects a 4,500-year-old tomb with the equinox.

The megalithic tomb, known as the Giant’s Grave, is situated in the valley of Loch an Dúin on the eastern side of the Conor Pass.

Ancient rock art can be found within the tomb, including a cup and ring near the head of the tomb.

For the past 14 years Daithí Ó Conaill, a retired school principal, has visited the site during the winter and summer solstice hoping to make a connection between the tomb and the sun. He has now discovered that the wedge tomb is actually aligned to the setting sun of the equinox, which last occurred on Friday 22 September.

As the sun sets directly into a 'V' shaped valley in the distant Brandon mountain range, a shaft of light enters the wedge tomb, illuminating the chamber and the rock art at the head of the tomb.

The event can be witnessed at sunset for a number of days either side of the equinox.

Archaeologist Míchéal Ó Coiléain who has carried out extensive surveys in Loch an Dúin said it was a stunning discovery, providing a fine example of the engineering brilliance demonstrated by the people who constructed it.

"Daithí's discovery is wonderful and it goes to show that people living 4500 years ago are aware of movements of the sun."

What is interesting is that no one seems to be realizing just how important this discovery is and why. Sure, the fact that this megalithic tomb is aligned to the equinoxes is amazing. It shows that people who built it knew how to determine where the "true east" is, which is not easy at all. One of the way to do this is to determine where the sun rises on summer and winter solstice and to then find the point right between these two points.

I explained the required procedure for determining the solstice points in my posts "Calendar" and "Boaz and Jachin".

Now what is truly amazing is the symbol that the builders of this ancient structure chose to mark the spot that is illuminated on the days of equinoxes.

This is the symbol found all over the world and in Egypt it was the symbol of the sun, Ra. This symbol is usually interpreted to mean sun disc, but I believe that it actually means sun circle, sun cycle, solar year.

This symbol is also found on hundreds of megaliths all over Ireland and Britain

But so far no meaning has been attached to it...Is it possible that the meaning of this symbol is sun, solar year?

During the solar year, the sun is born on winter solstice morning, it becomes young during spring, mature during summer, old during autumn and finally dies on winter solstice eve. The sun's life cycle looks very much like a human life cycle. With one big difference: the sun that dies on winter solstice eve gets reborn on winter solstice morning. 

So is it possible that the above symbol, the sun circle with no beginning and no end, could also represent endless cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth?

And if so, is it possible that the full meaning of the cup and ring symbol is sun, solar cycle, cycle of life, rebirth? 

Now the people who built this megalithic tomb and oriented it towards the east, towards the house of the sun god, must have been sun worshipers. Using the symbol of the sun to mark the spot illuminated by the sun inside the tomb is then not surprising. But is it possible that another reason why the megalith builders put this symbol at the end of the tomb chamber is to indicate their belief in rebirth? 

And if so, is it possible that Bronze Age people who engraved these symbols into stones all over Ireland and Britain did this as part of funeral ceremonies which were part of a solar cult which incorporated belief in rebirth?

We will never know for sure, but...

Monday, 25 September 2017

Sun god from the first temple

In my post "Boaz and Jachin" I talked about the significance of the fact that Solomon built his temple on a threshing floor. The reason why this is significant is because in the past threshing floors were not only used for threshing and winnowing, but were also used as solar observatories and for ceremonies which were part of a solar cult. At the end of that article I suggested that the First Temple, whose entrance was oriented towards true east, towards the area of the horizon where the sun rises, was a temple dedicated to the sun and built by sun worshipers. And I said that we actually have indications that this could in fact have been the case.

Well some might say that just because the temple was oriented towards the east, that doesn't mean that the people who built the temple worshiped the sun. For instance look at the early Christian churches which were also oriented towards the east. Does that mean that the early Christians were also sun worshipers?

To this I will just say :)

That the builders of the first temple were sun worshipers we are actually told by the scriptures. In Ezekiel 8:16 we read this:

"In the sixth year, in the sixth month on the fifth day, while I was sitting in my house and the elders of Judah were sitting before me, the hand of the Sovereign Lord came on me there. 2 I looked, and I saw a figure like that of a man.[a] From what appeared to be his waist down he was like fire, and from there up his appearance was as bright as glowing metal. 3 He stretched out what looked like a hand and took me by the hair of my head. The Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and in visions of God he took me to Jerusalem...He then brought me into the inner court of the house of the Lord, and there at the entrance to the temple, between the portico and the altar, were about twenty-five men. With their backs toward the temple of the Lord and their faces toward the east, they were bowing down to the sun in the east."

One of the common archaeological characteristic of the early Christian churches is that they were oriented toward East, i.d. toward the Rising Sun, the same orientation found in the First temple. So the orientation of the Christian churches can't be used as the proof that the first temple was not a temple of sun worshipers. Quite the opposite. It raises questions whether the early Christians were sun worshipers too. And I believe that they were...

Ezekiel (622 - 570 BCE) strongly disproved of sun worshiping practices that he had observed in the First temple. The fact that people still prayed to the sun during the time of Ezekiel is very interesting, because it shows how strong this solar cult was among the people of Judah. Ezekiel was born during the reign of Josiah (649–609 BCE). And it was Josiah, who according to the Hebrew Bible, instituted major religious changes aimed at eradicating the solar cult which flourished in Judah before and during his time. How strong the solar cult was in Judah just before the time of Josiah can be seen from the royal seal of the Kingdom of Judah from the time of the King Hezekiah (739 - 687 BC).

The seal bears the symbol of a winged sun and two ankh symbols, which symbolize life.

This means that the solar cult was not a minor religious curiosity. It was a state religion whose main temple was the First temple. A state religion supported by at least a significant part of the Judah's population. 

So when Josiah started his religious reforms, not everyone was pleased. A lot of people saw these changes as sacrilege and continued to practice the old solar religion. We know that this was the case because we find evidence of the solar cult among the people of Judah again and again in the following centuries. 

Now as part of his crusade, Josiah did the major cleanup of the First temmple. In 2 Kings 23:11 we read:

"He (Josiah) removed from the entrance of the LORD's Temple the horse statues that the former kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun... He also burned the chariots dedicated to the sun..."

This is most peculiar. We have a temple, build on a threshing floor (ancient solar observatory). The temple was oriented towards the east, and in the temple people prayed to the rising sun as if it was a god. And the temple housed a chariot and horses dedicated to the sun god???

Who was this sun god to whom ancient kings of Judah dedicated horses and chariot?

Well Helios of course.

Here is a depiction of Helios, the old titan (Old European) sun god. He is mostly depicted as a youth with sun ray halo driving the chariot pulled by winged horses across the sky, from east to west.

Why do I think that this god was Helios? Well because 800 years after Josiah removed Helios from the first temple, he reappears in synagogues in Holy land.

The Beth Alpha or Bet Alpha or Bet Alfa is a sixth-century synagogue located at the foot of the northern slopes of the Gilboa mountains near Beit She'an, Israel.

The central nave floor mosaic panel features a Jewish adaptation of the Greco-Roman zodiac. The zodiac consists of two concentric circles, with the twelve zodiac signs appearing in the outer circle, and Helios, the Greco-Roman sun god, appearing in the inner circle. The outer circle consists of twelve panels, each of which correspond to one of the twelve months of the year and contain the appropriate Greco-Roman zodiac sign. Female busts symbolizing the four seasons appear in the four corners immediately outside the zodiac. In the center, Helios appears with his signature Greco-Roman iconographic elements such as the fiery crown of rays adorning his head and the highly stylized quadriga or four-horse-drawn chariot. The background is decorated with a crescent shaped moon and stars. As in the "Binding of Isaac" panel, the zodiac symbols and seasonal busts are labeled with their corresponding Hebrew names.

This zodiac wheel, with Helios or Sun in it's center is found in contemporaneous synagogues throughout Israel such as Naaran, Susiya, Hamat Tiberias, Huseifa, and Sepphoris.

The Tzippori Synagogue (Sepphoris Synagogue,) is an ancient synagogue discovered in Tzippori, a Roman-era Jewish city in the Galilee. Based on numismatic evidence, the synagogue appears to have been built in the first half of the fifth century. In the center of the nave floor, there is a large Zodiac with the names of the months written in Hebrew. Helios sits in the middle, in his sun chariot.

The Hammat Tiberias Synagogue is an ancient synagogue on the outskirts of Tiberias, located near the hot springs just south of the city. The synagogue dates to 286 and 337 CE, when Tiberias was the seat of the Sanhedrin.The mosaic floor is made up of three panels featuring the zodiac, and Helios, the sun god. Women who symbolize the four seasons of nature appear in each corner.

It is important to note that this image of Helios does not appear anywhere in Synagogues in Jewish diaspora. It is only found in Synagogues in holy land.

Now what is Helios doing in the synagogues?!? 

Well currently, there is a scholarly debate going on regarding the relationship between Judaism and general Greco-Roman culture in late-antiquity. Some interpret the popularity that the zodiac maintains within synagogue floors as evidence for its Judaization and adaptation into the Jewish calendar and liturgy. Others see it as representing the existence of a “non-Rabbinic” or a mystical and Hellenized form of Judaism that embraced the astral religion of Greco-Roman culture.

Interestingly there is no mention of the Solar cult of the First temple and the possibility that the the appearance of Helios in synagogues marks the reemergence of this cult in the holy land???

As I already mentioned, Ezekiel sees priests in the First Temple worshiping the sun. Interestingly, Josephus records an Essene practice that he says was handed down to them by the forefathers where it appears that they were praying to the rising sun (War 2.8.5).

Qumran scrolls, which are attributed to the Essens, seem to confirm that Josephus was telling the truth. In the Hodayom, there are several references to prayer at dawn. 1QH 4:5 states: "I thank thee, O Lord, for Thou hast illuminated my face by Thy covenant, and I seek Thee, and sure as the dawn Thou hast appeared to me as perfect light."

Church fathers Origen (Contra Celsius 1.26, 5.6), Clement of Alexandria (Stromata, 6.5.41), and maybe even some of the New Testament Epistles (Col 2:16-23, Heb 2:5) are aware of some Jewish practices that involved worship of objects in the sky.

So were the synagogues with Helios built by Essenes?

In the Book of Enoch, which dates to at least a couple of centuries before Christ, and have been very important for the further development of the Qumranic (Essenic) Judaisms, we find an impressive part (the Astronomical Book) about the course of the Sun and the use of a solar calendar (found also in Qumran). The use of this Solar calendar was considered extremely important. Which is to be expected from the sun worshipers.

On the "Hebrew calendar" Wiki page we read:

"Many of the Dead Sea (Qumran) Scrolls have references to a unique calendar, used by the people there, who are often assumed to be Essenes. The year of this calendar used the ideal Mesopotamian calendar of twelve 30-day months, to which were added 4 days at the equinoxes and solstices (cardinal points), making a total of 364 days...With only 364 days, it is clear that the calendar would after a few years be very noticeably different from the actual seasons, but there is nothing to indicate what was done about this problem. Various suggestions have been made by scholars. One is that nothing was done and the calendar was allowed to change with respect to the seasons. Another suggestion is that changes were made irregularly, only when the seasonal anomaly was too great to be ignored any longer."

I will suggest here that the Solar calendar used by the Qumran community and before then by the people who wrote the Book of Enoch did not slide at all. I believe that it was regularly readjusted every winter solstice, when the new sun, solar year, was born. This is very easy to do if you know how to use threshing floor as a solar observatory. Which is why the First temple was built on the threshing floor. It made determining of the winter solstice, the starting point of the new solar year easy, which ensured that the calendar never slipped.  

Was this solar calendar which was used by the writers of the Book of Enoch and by the Qumran community the calendar used in the First temple? I believe so. Solar worshipers, who built their temple on a threshing floor, a solar observatory used for determining the date and the time based on the movement of the sun definitely used solar calendar. They would have seen this as part of their religion.

This solar calendar of the First temple was later almost fully substituted by the lunar calendar of the Second temple. This lunar calendar was probably a borrowing from the Babylonians. It could have been brought back from the exile or could have been introduced even later according to some scholars. You can read more about this change of calendar in these three books and many more:

"Calendrical Variations in Second Temple Judaism" by Stéphane Saulnier

"Out of the Cave: A Philosophical Inquiry Into the Dead Sea Scrolls Research" by Edna Ullmann-Margalit

"Enoch and Qumran Origins: New Light on a Forgotten Connectionedited by Gabriele Boccaccini

This change of calendar was not just "the change of calendar".

The Book of Enoch makes it is clear that there were some Jews that considered the Second Temple as impure, and were clearly trying to restore a cult which was as much as possible near to the one of the First Temple. The solar cult. 

It appears that the worship or veneration of the sun (or other objects in the sky for that matter) which had a precedent in the First Temple period and is condemned by Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Deuteronomy, and which Josiah tried to eradicate through his "reforms", never really completely died out. And this is why centuries after Josiah removed chariot and the horses dedicated to the sun from the First temple, Helios appears in synagogues in holy land.  

But then, around the 6th century AD Helios disappears from the synagogues never to be seen again. 

So here we are left with two questions:

1. Where did Helios come to holy land from?
2. Where did Helios go from the holy land to?

I will talk about this in my next posts...