Orion is remarkable. Whether the constellation, the Metallica instrumental, or the mythological figure(s) – there is something impressively resonant and incredibly enduring behind the name and figure.
I’m currently working upon a ‘Forensic Theology’ effort to look at the actual underlying archaic Indo-European myth and the figures involved (particularly the Death aspect – and just what, or rather Whom was being hunted) – but that piece is not this.
Rather, we shall be looking at something similarly enduring – the Weapon of this most mighty Hunter Who Stalks The Stars , and how it has perhaps surprisingly persisted from its most archaic mentions in ancient Vedic ritual accounts through to the present-day’s most prominently recognizable iconographic Shaivite saliency.
In the standard Western perception of the constellation of Orion, considerably informed to us by the Greeks, you will often see several armaments associated with the figure. One is a raised club, another is the sword hanging from His justly famed Belt. A third comprises the Bow – although frequently, this seems to be subsumed in recent iconographic depictions: the stars in question being instead repurposed as a shield or some fearsome beast held aloft by the throat. Where Orion’s hand holds the Bow in firing position with limb outstretched, the raised other arm which should otherwise be hefting a close quarters implement of violence is instead occasionally depicted in the position which suggests an arrow has immediately been let fly. At other times, both club (or sword) and bow are held in opposite hands – and for reasons that shall become apparent, it would be interesting to consider the possibility of an Axe as the swung weapon likewise.
Personally, I grew up knowing Orion as ‘the Archer’, which makes logical sense after all for a Hunter – and so therefore it was with considerable interest that I learned of the relevant archaic Hindu perception in relation to this figure. Wherein, once again, an Archer is most definitely Who is meant.
Now as I say – there are quite some complicated points to be made upon the co-identification of the constellations (and deific figures) relevant for this myth between the Vedic view and the Hellenic or later European. We shan’t get into all of that here, except to note that the coterminity is a somewhat ‘imperfect’ one. Insofar as some stars in Greek Orion are identified with the prey of the Hunter – Mrgashira, the ‘Deer’s Head’ (and therefore Prajapati, Who had assumed such a form at the time that Rudra was dispatched to carry out severe sanction against Him); whilst other stars (pointedly, Orion’s Belt) are the Arrow, protruding from the quarry; and it is Sirius / Alpha Canis Majoris that is significantly identified with Rudra – a situation which we have significantly explored in previous works such as “Sirius In Central Asia – Soma, Tisya, Tishtrya, Rudra”, and which makes abundant sense given the situation of Rudra as a ‘Wolf God’ (whether accompanied by His Two Wolves, or in a more straightforward sense with the Wolf as tracker par excellence) and the Classical recollection of Sirius as linking to the concept of ‘Shaking’ (with Fury – or, we should say, Furor).
Meanwhile, in mythic terms – and again, I am simply breezing through this ‘once over lightly’ to leave it for grander exploration in the subsequent works to come – what we appear to see in the Classical mythology around Orion is a scenario wherein Orion is at once both Rudra and Prajapati. Rudra when Orion is the famed huntsman and lover of Artemis in a positive condition ; Prajapati when Orion is the figure being shot by Apollo (with Apollo unsurprisingly being Rudra) in order to protect Artemis (here fulfilling the role of Saraswati / Diva) or when Artemis (here Rudra) is acting to avenge Orion’s rape of Oupis; and with the dispatch of Orion via Scorpio actually speaking to a rather lesser-remarked upon yet pervasive Indo-European understanding of the Wife of the Sky Father killing the Sky Father (as can be demonstrated via not only Artemis contra Orion … but also Gaia utilizing Scorpio – due to the intriguing identification of the Scorpion’s Tail as belonging to Prithvi in the Nakshatra Sukta appended to the AtharvaVeda) – but more upon this in the future. Let us return to the Arrow of Rudra that is so remarkably identified with what we would speak of as Orion’s Belt.
Given Rudra’s eminent status as The Archer (Sarva) in Vedic theonymy, it should come as no surprise to find that He is also hailed as launching that aforementioned Arrow. And so it might be tempting to ask just why I had felt this understanding worthy of its own standalone piece – because where is the actual unexpectedness to this if we have a feared Hunter utilizing a Hunter’s weapon against a target that had taken the form of a game-animal.
And the answer is : the actual form of the Arrow itself.
Per the Aitareya Brahmana’s rendition of the occurrence, the weapon unleashed by Rudra is described as ‘Trikanda’. That is to say ‘Three-‘ (or ‘Tri-‘ – it means just as it does in English or Greek etc.) ‘-kanda’. What is ‘Kanda’? Well, it would be tempting to render this as ‘division’ – and certainly, in modern usage one frequently encounters ‘Kanda’ utilized in such a manner. ‘Chapter of a book’, for example, may be referred to as ‘Kanda’, or we have ‘division of land’ (a la ‘province’) as seen with, say, Uttarakhand. English “Candy” even derives from this same Sanskrit term – as sheets of jaggery (sugar-cane) were ‘broken’ into smaller pieces and could then be consumed like .. well .. modern-day ‘candy’. However that is not the most appropriate rendering for ‘Kanda’ here.
Instead, we find Kanda to mean a ‘stalk’, a ‘shaft’, an ‘arrow’. That is to say – ‘Trikanda’ would therefore mean not so much an arrow which has three parts, but rather a ‘Three-Arrow’: a three-pointed arrow [Which is, not at all coincidentally, how the modern-day Vedic sage, Manasataramgini has rendered it in his translation of the relevant portion of text].
Now, whereabouts do we see a three-pronged weapon being utilized by a deity familiar to us in Vedic terms as a formidable Archer …
Lord Shiva’s Trishula [‘Three-Spear’] is quite clearly resonant with this understanding. In both cases, we have the weapon useful for a hunter (a bow and arrow, or a spear) – and in both cases, three points or shafts to the single ‘shootable’ / ‘castable’ / ‘fireable’ instrument.
And lest I be accused of blatantly overlooking the fact that an arrow is not a spear … actually, yes, yes it is. It is just a rather small one, which is utilized via the availment of a launching mechanism. We similarly find a ‘convection-zone’ of sorts when we consider one of the major Vedic names for Rudra’s Bow – Pinaka. This, at once, can refer to a Bow, but also to a Spear. The idea of ‘projecting’ force in a piercing, penetrating manner oriented around a speeding shaft is perhaps rather more important than whether the projectile in question was shot from a bow or hurled via more direct means and the strength of His Arm. I had touched upon some of these points in my earlier work – ‘On The World-Spear of the Sky Father – Trishula, Gungnir, Pinaka’.
Now it should be noted that in various other presentations of the encounter of Rudra with Prajapati, the weaponry does change somewhat. We see an axe is utilized – because Prajapati (later, in Puranic era retellings, Brahma) is being decapitated. This should come as little surprise – as Rudra (and His emanations – for example, KaalBhairava; or His other Forms – such as Brihaspati or Agni) is indelibly associated with this style of weapon, too.
However, there are other details to the ‘Archer’ account which do bear further examination here – in no small part because they do help us to understand some of what is going on in mythic terms with this otherwise curious accounting of a three-tipped arrow being fired by Rudra.
The first point to be made is that in the relevant aforementioned Aitareya Brahmana accounting, Rudra is congealed as an ‘ultimate enforcer’ of Cosmic Law – necessary in order to protect the Goddess (variously identified as a female form of ‘Heaven’ – so ‘Dyaus’ in feminine … which, of course, tracks with the later Puranic presentation of Brahma making unwholesome advances toward Shiva’s Wife Parvati; however also spoken of in the same verse as Ushas) from the outrage impending at Prajapati’s grasping hands. This does not simply happen spontaneously – but is rather the direct result of the Gods coming together to bring Him forth through the investiture of Their most terrifying qualities. In the RigVeda’s presentation of the episode [wherein Rudra is referred to as Mrgavyadha – ‘hunter’, ‘predator’, more literally ‘prey/deer-piercer’ … and again, not at all coincidentally a term for the star Sirius], we find Vastopati thusly ‘manyu-fested’ by the combined outrage of the assembled Gods (a situation which both reinforces the identification elsewhere of Vastopati in at least some occasions as Rudra ; and also resonates with the appearance of Devi Durga from a similar divine convocation in order to slay Mahishasura). The same understanding quite plausibly informs the form of the myth recorded in a number of Classical accounts wherein Orion results from Zeus / Jupiter , Poseidon / Neptune, and Hermes / Mercury all urinating into the hide of a sacrificially offered bull (or ox) (particularly given the well-known ‘Bull’ iconographic and epithetical saliency for Rudra) – although I suspect that the ‘urine’ element is something of a ‘folk-etymology’ and/or misremembering of a rather key detail that instead pertains to something quite foundational to the deific. More upon that in the not-too-distant future.
This ‘combined arms’ typology is necessary to note, because in various of the other typologically resonant accounts from the Vedic (and subsequent) layers of texts which spring to mind, what we are often seeing with certain vastly potent arrows of Rudra is that they, too, are somehow ‘congealments’ or ‘constructions’ which draw together either Divinities Themselves, or ‘qualities’, ‘essences’, ‘energies’ of Same for their empowerment.
A grand example for this is provided via the Puranic mythology around Shiva as Tripurantaka – the ‘Destroyer of the Three Forts’. Again, we won’t go into detail about the myth in question – but suffice to say, three airborne demonic strongholds all had to be destroyed, and could only be combatted if attacked simultaneously. The mechanism to do this was a fittingly divinely infused arrow, which of course required a fittingly divine Archer in order to fire it. The Puranic mythology adds quite a range of potential narrative and theological additional elements to this basic structure (including a much more expansive role for various other Gods contributing as, for instance, the wheels of Rudra’s War-Chariot, or as elements of the Bow Itself … and Lord Shiva pointedly being able to destroy the three citadels without any of this being necessary in any case); however the more archaic Vedic accounts (to be found in the Black Yajurveda and accompanying Shatapatha Brahmana – with another, semi-related variant present in the Aitareya Brahmana) are much less expansive and simply orient around those aforementioned key elements.
This is because they’re there to provide ‘narrative’ encoding for ritual understandings. In this particular case, an Upasad [‘Siege’ / ‘Attack’ / ‘Approach’ – although also ‘Homage’ ‘Worship Ceremony’; and interestingly, with Nordic Gunnlöð being a figurative resonancy, as I have discussed elsewhere] , requiring offerings to three deities (Agni , Soma , Vishnu) to be undertaken in sets of three (so, three of these offerings (one for each God), carried out twice a day plus a Homa rite (again, a set of three), for three, six, or twelve days). These offerings consist of Ghee (‘clarified butter’ – an important ritual ingredient, in no small part because it constitutes a ready liquid fuel for fire) which is understood to congeal the Thunderbolt (Vajra) utilizable for the smashing of any oppositional fortification or other such obstruction (c.f the use of the Vajra to do just exactly that by Indra or Brihaspati (inter alia) against Vritra, Vala, etc. ). This Thunderbolt, as I have earlier demonstrated elsewhere, is – despite the more frequent ‘Club’, ‘Mace’, or ‘(Thunder)Hammer’ perception – also referred to in terms befitting an arrow in the Vedas ; and may occur in Greek mythic conceptry with, for example, the flaming arrows (or spears) utilized by Herakles in at least one accounting of the Hydra-slaying. As well as, of course, the Thunderbolt occurrent in Classical mythology – the one wielded by Zeus and thrown in the manner of a javelin. Something further supported via the identification of Rudra’s weapon, in any case, being the Vajra per RV II 33 3 – and other points made elsewhere around the effective coterminity of Shiva’s iconic armament with the Vajra in functional terms. But let us bring things back to this ritual occurrence and its resonancy for the situation viz. Rudra in (avenging, protective) pursuit of Prajapati.
We can tell that this is the same – or, at least, highly resonant – occurrence due not only to the Archer and the three-point arrow involved, but also due to both cases entailing the same exactly identical price demanded by Lord Rudra in exchange for carrying out the operation. Namely, He requests to be named the Lord of Beasts (Pasupati). Now this is interesting to us in quite a number of senses – one of which being the obvious one around a Supreme Hunter possessing dominion over the wilds and ‘animal kingdom’; although also because given the specific association with Cattle that this title pertains to – which, given the prominent understanding of Cattle as Wealth (c.f, for instance, Nordic ‘Fehu’ – a rune and a term somewhat connoting both; or the nature of the hoarded wealth stolen by certain demons that is to be recovered via Divine war effort in various Vedic hymns … or simply the next line of the Aitareya Brahmana, wherein invoking ‘Pashuman’ renders one wealthy in just such terms), would therefore also render Rudra as ‘The Wealthy’, the ‘Lord of Wealth’. ‘Pluto’, we might suggest – which, in comparative mytholinguistic terms, is rather intriguing due to ‘Pluto’ likely descending from the same PIE term that gives us ‘Pleiades’. But more upon those matters at some as-yet unspecified future juncture. Suffice to say the linkage of Orion with the Pleiades in Greek understanding, and of Agni (Shiva) with the Krittikas in Hindu reckoning , likely recalls an incredibly archaic Proto-Indo-European belief around that asterism entailing the Sky Father deific.
However there is one rather important point of distinction between these two schemas. In the Haug translation of the Aitareya Brahmana we find the ‘tripartite’ Arrow to be comprised of “shaft, steel, and point”. This makes logical sense – except that it is Haug’s own interpolation. It is not actually found in the text he is translating. What it DOES resemble is the situation presented for the Upasad (‘Siege’) rite in the Shatapatha Brahmana & Taittiriya Yajurveda – wherein each of the three ‘energies’ is indeed spoken of as having a distinct ‘part’ or ‘place’ in the resultant munition. Except here we encounter additional difficulties. Both sources identify Agni as the Anika (i.e. ‘point’, ‘vanguard’, ‘facing’, ‘tip’) and Soma as the Salya. Salya is ordinarily another term for an Arrow or Spear itself, a thing that pierces – although partially as a result of this, it can also refer to a pin or peg that is keeping things conjoined. However, this again causes complexities – as what, then, to make of the Shatapatha Brahmana’s referring to Vishnu as the ‘Kulmala’ , a term which usually refers to the joining of arrow-head and shaft. Some interpretations have attempted to ‘square the circle’ here by declaring the Salya that is Soma to be a ‘barb’ or actual ‘point’ to the head – and simultaneously reconstruing the Anika as the ‘shaft’ (which is not entirely impossible given its general field of meaning also including a ‘column’ of troops); however clearly any attempt to dislodge Agni from the ‘tip of the Spear’ and the logical understanding of ‘Anika’ is going to be rather eyebrow-raising in light of other occurrences for Agni as Anika in the same text. Meanwhile, Vishnu is referred to as the ‘Tejana’ in the Black Yajurveda’s rendition of the same sacrificial instructional – a term which, again, maddeningly usually refers to a ‘sharp’ element and arrowhead although which could feasibly also refer to a shaft.
The proper approach to all of this is, I feel, an indelibly simple one. Rather than tying ourselves up in knots attempting to ascribe particular parts to a physical arrow to the energies (and their contributors) thusly invoked, and having to therefore do very curious things to the actual words of the scripture congealed out in front of us … it is far more straightforward to instead observe that the Arrow is a ‘metaphor’. In much the same manner, in fact, as describing the three stars of Orion’s Belt (or Rudra’s Arrow) as being , well, a ‘belt’ or an ‘arrow’ is. It doesn’t change that the three immense points of light are incredibly significant and potent – however it recognizes that the particular connotation and ‘form’ we use to mentally shorthand these is a human projection. And projections, even via starlight, should rarely become too easily nor comfortably confused with the underlying reality to which they track back.
When interpreted metaphysically, we see the truth of the matter – that each of these three ‘qualities’ has an essential role to play in congealing the overarching weapon. And, interestingly, at least one of these – Tejana, utilized to refer to Vishnu’s contribution in the Taittiriya Yajurveda presentation – has a rather specific additional connotation of ‘brightness’ (more properly – ‘brightening’) to go along with the understanding of piled combustible material for a blaze. This helps to point the way for us. Three Stars – three immense thermonuclear pyres – up there in the sky, resonant and in conjunction or syzygy with three sacral fires down here below upon this mundane (in multiple senses) plane of ours. And each of these forming a ‘warhead’ (with the Ghee thusly offered into the flames being fissile material), capable of exerting a penetrative and smashing force against the impediments and opposition mounted by the Gods’ foes.
In this way, we might once again recall the situation of the Trishula of Mahadev – wherein part of the reason for it being, well, a Tri-Shula [‘Three-Spear’] is precisely because each Shula [Point] stands for a particular ‘quality’. And therefore, what Rudra wields when He draws forth this immensely potent (indeed, literally omnipotent) weapon – is something capable of acting with all three forces as active components with which to ‘unmake’ the enemy.
An understanding which similarly facilitates the ritual conduct wherein some measure of the power and the potency of this device is ‘drawn down’ to us via acting in recognition, in consciously active ‘resonancy’ with what we find encoded for us in the Stars.
‘As Above, So Below’, as somebody once said. ‘Above’ intended here to refer to the Supernal, the Heavenly well more than the ‘mere’ view of what we can behold of outer space from down here with our human eyes. For that’s precisely the element at issue here – ‘human eyes’ having an incessant need to render down everything into decidedly ‘human’ terms. Something that is understandably important, even vital, to ensure that these beliefs are actually able to be transmitted on down the generations and attain fresh saliency for persons coming into contact with them – to keep them connected to us, in other words. Yet which nevertheless runs the serious risk of ‘reducing’ things in order to make them more comprehensible .. and losing so much in the process. Even before one gets to ‘euhemerism’, where quite directly the sacred and mythic is artificially transmuted to literally just be about humans or meteorological phenomena etc. And so we wind up with arguments about how a Trishula “must” be a foreign and non-IE element, because “our spears don’t look that way” ; or a bow and arrow being unable to also be a spear – because in human terms, how could these be the same instrument. I still remember a very stupid encounter a year or two ago with somebody who really didn’t want to believe that a Vajra, Mjolnir, and other such elements could be the same thing, the same element wielded by the same figure … because “an axe is not a hammer”, “a mace is not an axe”, etc. etc. – never mind the comparative linguistics and mythology to demonstrate the truth being otherwise. Who knows how he’d have coped to hear the elements around the Vajra being depicted in terms which likewise relate to an Arrow.
That kind of objectionism I think we might reasonably surmise as attempts at enforcing “As Below … So Above”. That is to say – insisting that because some mundane human element works or looks a particular way, that the mythic element that may have been represented in terms drawing from said mundane element must therefore axiomatically follow completely suit. Never mind how various of these accounts are artistic renderings where ‘poetic license’ may render efforts at strict ‘scriptural literalism’ a rather futile and self-defeating agenda even afore we get into how to reconcile other somewhat or more significantly differing accounts from within the same mytho-cultural complex. But that is another series of excursions for another set of times.
For now, it is enough to look up into the Sky in wonder – and marvel at this most magnificent Weapon of the Wolf Who Stalks The Stars .