Today is our first observance of Matariki – which, for our international readers, is a newly minted NZ public holiday for the rising of the Pleiades (Matariki being a Te Reo Māori name for the constellation, as well as for the beginning of the New Year which accompanies its ascent).
Now, we are of course in favour of such a thing. As anything which produces a greater co-alignment of the secular calendar and the astrological one is a positive development. Particularly when the Constellation in question is one that is so prominent in the Indo-European understanding as well.
Others have put quite a lot of effort into detailing the Maori perspective upon the Matariki constellation. We shall not reduplicate that work here. We had also intended to write upon a broader Indo-European suite of perspectives incorporating more on the Greek / Hellenic perception of the Pleiades … but we shall save that work, I think, for another time.
Instead, here is a somewhat abridged piece I had written upon a closely related (my)theme – that of the Vedic perception for the Asterism.
“‘Krttika’ in Sanskrit means ‘The Cutter’ – and The Krttikas (plural) refer to the Pleiades. The way I’ve designed this asterism is deliberately to give voice to what’s associated with the constellation in Hindu mythic and astrological terms.
But what are these energies? And what is Their purpose?
In a sense, I suppose we may think of the Krittikas as being ‘Fire-Blades’. They connote both ‘destruction’ and ‘illumination’ (which we can also phrase as ‘Purification’ – ‘Hallowing’) – and, most especially, both at once. The one via necessity precedes the other. Aptly for this purpose, They are presided over by Lord Agni as the Deific – a situation which also resonates with the mythological presentation, as we have covered in some detail elsewhere (and fully intend to revisit more in the future). We have also undertaken to represent an additional element to the Indo-European mythology around the constellation via the fact that there are Six Runes here – for Six Sisters, Six Star-Maids. In both Hellenic and Hindu reckoning there were archaically Seven of These – with one, Amba (to use the Vedic), having mysteriously dimmed and disappeared. However, particularly given the overt resemblance of ‘Amba’ to … a certain figure of this name … I have my enduring belief as to where (and, most especially, Who) it is that She eventually Returns To.
Iconographically, we often find Krttika likewise represented with ‘cutting’ elements – a knife or a spear, or occasionally even an axe; or with a burning torch.
The Krttika asterism is spoken of as the ‘Mouth’ of the processional. Eminently apt for the ‘First’ of the 27 divisions of the Heavens – although there is more to it than (just) that. The Krittikas are linked to Agni – Agni, a lord of eloquence and Priest of the Gods is, Himself, something of a ‘Mouth’. Indeed, when we are making sacrificial oblations into the sacred Fire in the course of our activities of piety .. we are ‘feeding’ Agni. Flame is, here, linked to ‘digestion’ in Vedic terms – and also to the expressive illumination of speech. As applies the former, we have these ‘Blades’ acting almost in the manner of ‘Teeth’. They can break down things so that the inner ‘essence’ which we are after might be usefully utilized and absorbed. Something which Fire also does – it is the Hallower. We might similarly apply this typology to knowledge – albeit noting also that in addition to ‘digesting’ information in the manner of more material sustenance, we also find the ‘other direction’ to the flow of such consumables to the Heavens via Agni to be invoked. That is to say – we have Insight, Inspiration, Divine Guidance ‘coming down’ to us from On High.
Another understanding concerns the application of fire for ‘cooking’ – some might suggest ‘perfecting’ (there is a suite of Sanskrit conceptry wherein the same word effectively means both – a process, after all, wherein strenuous effort and ‘intervention’ is deployed to bring about an improved outcome. One where the implicit essence has become explicit, ‘tastes’ realized and/or baked in (imparted, communicated), the thing rendered actually-consumable and fit-for-purpose … you get the idea). Purification, meanwhile, refers to the removal of that which is obscuring and unnecessary / contaminating – to leave what is pure and righteous and worthy in its wake.
Now, translations of the relevant Vedic texts into English are rather few and far between, but I have nevertheless managed to source several which help to elucidate what it is that I’m about here. Here’s the Nealy rendition for several relevant sections of the Taittiriya Brahmana:
Taittirīya Brāhmaṇa: Aṣṭaka 1, Prapāṭhaka 1, Anuvāka 2
“1 One should offer to Agni among the Kṛttikās. Indeed, that is the nakṣatra of Agni. Indeed who, having offered to the Kṛttikās and him [Agni] among one’s own deity becomes eminent in sacred knowledge. That is indeed the foremost of the nakṣatras, which are the Kṛttikās. The one who offers to Agni among the Kṛttikās, indeed becomes the foremost.”
Taittirīya Brāhmaṇa: Aṣṭaka 3, Prapāṭhaka 1, Anuvākas 1 and 2
“1 May Agni protect the Kṛttikās for us.This nakṣatra has a distinct deity and power of those [Kṛttikās]. Having come into possession of an oblation, may you sacrifice.
2 The rays of light of whom and the comets of whom shine and the divine Agni of whom dwells in all those places and creatures with the Kṛttikās, he should bestow upon us the good path.”
And, to give another sense of that latter pair of verses – the Dumont rendition:
“(1.a) Let Agni protect us, (let) the Krttikas, the Naksatra (of Agni), the divine manly power (protect us).
Pour (O priests) this radiant oblation into their mouth.
(1.b) Let him, whose rays, whose banners, shine, to whom all these beings, all, belong, who wraps himself in the Krttikas, – let god Agni establish us in welfare.”
As we can see, this sense of bestowing to the worshipper the correct ‘insight’ – the guidance to great and powerful (often secret) knowledge – has Vedic precedency. As, of course, does the notion of being Guided upon the path – the Pathway of the Stars.
As Leonard Cohen put it in ‘First We Take Manhattan’: “I’m Guided by a Signal in the Heavens / I’m Guided by this Birthmark on my skin. / I’m Guided by the Beauty of Our Weapons … “
Further occurrences for the Krittikas of saliency for us here are to be found in the actual main text (Sanhita) of the Taittiriya Yajurveda:
IV 4 10
“[line a] (Thou art) Krttikas, the Naksatra, Agni, the deity; Ye are the radiances of Agni, of Prajapati, of the Creator, of Soma; to the Re Thee, to Radiance Thee, to the Shining Thee, to the Blaze Thee, to the Light Thee”
For the second half of the line, the actual text is interesting. In the Sanskrit: “Rce Tva Ruce Tva Dyute Tva Bhase Tva Jyotise Tva”. ‘Tva’ is, of course, ‘[To] Thee’ (like ‘Tu’ etc. in Latin, French – or, for that matter, ‘Thee’ itself is a direct cognate); but these ‘operative phrases’: ‘Rce’, ‘Ruce’, ‘Dyute’, ‘Bhase’, and ‘Jyotise’ … two of these are reasonably straightforward (if understated in the translation) terms. ‘Dyute’ and ‘Jyotise’ (which, again, rather interestingly, are actually two forms of the same root – with the latter deriving from the former after having been ‘re-absorbed’ into the Sanskrit corpus from a Prakrit sojourn, allegedly) refer to Celestial Radiancy – ‘Dyu’ as in ‘Shining Heaven’, (like ‘Day’-light – which also comes from the same PIE root; or, of course, Dyaus Pitar – Our Father Who Art Heaven), and ‘Jyotis’, which means ‘Celestial Light’ in another way, and often refers to the illumination of particular heavenly bodies such as stars (hence ‘Jyotisha’ as the Hindu star-science).
But ‘Rce’, ‘Ruce’, and ‘Bhase’ – I would suggest rather strongly that these are intentional puns. Why? Because each term either is directly one which connotes both Illumination and Communication, or sounds incredibly close to one.
Rc ( ऋच् ), for instance, which is also the actual term being transliterated in the ‘Rig’ of ‘RigVeda’, quite directly can mean both ‘Shining’ and ‘Splendour’ – but also a Hymnal, a Prayer, Worship.
Ruc ( रुच् ), again, directly means radiance – shining, beauty; yet also has additional and frequently encountered meanings of ‘Resolve’, ‘Desire’, or ‘To Be Agreeable’. (Hence – Ruchana : ‘To Be Of Interest’, ‘To Be Agreeable [to one]’)
Bhasa ( भास ) is a case wherein the one term closely resembles another – Bhasa ( भाषा ). It is the former which refers to ‘Light’, and the latter which refers to ‘Speech’. However, despite the subtle difference in pronunciation – both are, it would seem, from a directly coterminous Proto-Indo-European particle: *bʰeh₂ ; and it would seem that there is some saliency for (Empowered, Divine) ‘Language’ and ‘Light’ as ‘radiating’ as an inveterately archaic Indo-European concept as we have discussed elsewhere.
What is being effectively communicated via these three terms in this Vedic context, therefore, is somewhat ‘bidirectional’. It is not only hailing the Radiance of these Krttika Stars (with all that that entails) – but it is also speaking to qualities which are hoped to condition the relationship between the Devotee and the Astra-ism. That of Prayer, for instance (Rc / Rik); that of ‘agreeableness’ (Ruc) as applies the Pleiades and Their Potency (as well as that of Their Lord – Agni) toward one, obtaining That Which Is Desired; and, of course, the ‘Bhasa’ which overtly refers to the illumination of Starlight, yet which seems to suggest, particularly in concert with Rc, that the power over one’s own verbal facility – the power of the Divine Speech , wit wisdom and insight, is also sought via the sacrificial offering to the Krttikas and to Agni as well.
Goes rather well with that Anglo-Saxon understanding of what had become of Ansuz, in that regard. Of course, the ‘KA-‘ combination that I produced there may have some bearing upon the fundamental ‘objective’ of Krttika – which is “Kama”, the finding of Love; which, itself, goes rather well with the ‘Desire’ rendering for ‘Ruc’.
One final point which ought be made is that the Krttika Nakshatra has an indelible association with warfare – and its champions. This ought be obvious via the birth of Kartikeya (one of the prominent Hindu War Gods) to these Six Mothers, as well as the coterminity with what we in the West would think of as Aries in terms of Sun Houses. However, in addition to the often overlooked strong saliency of Agni in warfare (c.f the ‘Anikavat’ understanding aforementioned – and there is quite a suite of RigVedic verses etc. likewise upon a similar theme), we also have an extended mention in the Mahabharat for another august figure ‘born’ under the Krttika Sign: The Asi, the First Sword.”
You can read the full piece up upon the site –
Which more fully-explicates this fine bind-rune row that I had prepared for the Krittika asterism.
Something, that we may suggest, is rather literally ‘Indo-European’.
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