Astro Journal · Mythology

Zodiac Myths: The Story Behind Gemini

From the earth of Taurus springs the butterfly mind of Gemini. As a mutable air sign, Gemini provides the ability to know and understand reality. If Aries stands for the subject and Taurus stands for the object, then Gemini is the relationship between these two: the knower and the known giving rise to a third, knowledge itself. The Gemini twins represent duality and communication, which can only happen when there are two.

This is the first sign of the zodiac that has a human representation rather than an animal one. The Gemini symbol is two upright parallel lines joined at the top and bottom, so the duality of the sign also implies a unity. The twin pillars are bound together, connecting heaven and earth, suggesting that the link between these worlds is to be found in the human mind.

Gemini is ruled by Mercury and balanced in its search for information by the opposite sign of Sagittarius which provides context and meaning for the big pile of facts accumulated by the winged messenger. Let’s dive into the pile and see what we can learn about the myths behind the twins…

Gemini – Symbols of Duality

The concept of twins in mythology goes back into the Palaeolithic and may be one of the earliest ideas we ever used in our stories. Duality is fundamental to reality and the creation myths of ancient cultures reflect that truth. Many feature twin gods and goddesses as brother and sister who stand for the dual principle of the universe: unity becomes duality becomes many – all contained within one wholeness.

This pattern is found in Egyptian, Sumerian, Babylonian, Akkadian, and Greek creation myths. But many also have a primordial pair of gods and/or goddesses to whom they trace their lineage. For example, the Nommo are the ancestral spirits of the Dogon people of Mali in West Africa, consisting of four pairs of twins.

Something similar could have been going on at Gobekli Tepe, the hunter-gatherer temple in Turkey dated to c. 9,500 BCE. Huge twin pillars stand in the centre of each temple that may have represented ancestors or gods. The T-shaped pillars are abstract and stylised but clearly anthropomorphic, with hands resting above a belt:

Temple reconstruction in Sanilurfa museum

Aside from ancestors or gods, the pillars may represent the dual principle of creation, or perhaps a doorway between worlds. Maybe the tribal leader or shaman stood between the pillars to perform the rituals that would carry him/her through the gateway into the world of the ancestors.

Twin pillars are a feature of later myths too, such as the Pillars of Hercules which stood at the entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar and guarded the passage into the unknown beyond. The Masonic symbol of the twin pillars of Boaz and Jachin can also be seen on the High Priestess tarot card where the Papess sits at the entrance to the sacred realm.

Twin pillars represent the opposites of creation and are sometimes shown with a third pillar that stands for the unification of those opposites. That union is found within the human heart and mind – in the shaman standing between the pillars – connecting heaven and earth.

The figure of the shaman is reflected in Mercury, the ruler of Gemini. Mercury has a dual nature and as Hermes, was the only being who could go down into the underworld and return without paying a price. Hermes is a psychopomp and trickster, a guide to souls and bringer of inspiration. He’s the god of crossroads and passageways, bridging the conscious and unconscious worlds.

“Hermes…enters alchemy as Mercurius, the ambiguous and unpredictable, dark-light spirit that guides the opus yet threatens always to destroy it. He/she is volatile, androgynous, both base matter and elixir, the carrier of every conceivable opposite, and is portrayed as the dark twin to Christ. Thus Mercurius is the chthonic double of the Son of God, who is born to the darkness of Mother Earth.” – Liz Greene, The Astrology of Fate

Hermes is the god of alchemy and magic, a transgressor of boundaries and agent of chaos. But he’s also the means through which the opposites are balanced, contained and healed. Long before the Greeks imagined Hermes with his caduceus entwined by twin serpents, the goddess cults embodied the duality of life within one image: the Goddess herself.

Double goddess found at Avdeevo

During the Age of Gemini, starting c. 6,500 BCE, there was a great flowering of double-headed and twin goddesses. But one of the oldest double goddess figures was found at Avdeevo in Russia. It was carved by mammoth hunters c. 20,000 BCE and shows two Venus figures back to back, shaped to fit together with one figure upside down. Perhaps the one facing down represents death, while the other stands for life.

More twin goddess figures were found at Çatal Höyük, c. 7,500 BCE, the agricultural town we discovered in the Taurus Myths post. Some of the figures are like Siamese twins, while others show one women with two heads. Many have bird-like features or are marked with patterns of chevrons, as seen on the bizarre disc-shaped figures found in Kültepe, dated to c. 3,000 BCE. The twin heads look like mushrooms, but they reflect the local landscape of Cappadocia with its ‘fairy chimneys.’

The double goddess figures represent the dual principle of life and death, the cycles of nature, and perhaps a light and a dark goddess contained within one. Later these two-headed figures were split into two goddesses that represent the dual principles, still related but now separate.

For example, Demeter and Persephone were worshipped together as ‘the Two Goddesses’ at Eleusis, and stood for winter and spring, death and rebirth. We see a similar arrangement with the sisters Inanna and Ereshkigal in Sumer, the light and dark goddesses who represent life and death. Inanna undergoes a descent into her sister’s realm in the underworld in order to renew the life force.

This movement between realms is depicted in a figure found in Mycenae that shows two queens with a young boy, usually interpreted as ‘the Two Queens and the King.’ It’s similar to the two-headed disc goddess above, and shows the child passing from one goddess to the other – moving from death into life. The women stand at the gateway into the otherworld; in fact, they are the gateway, as goddess, and shaman, but also as mother.

Double goddess found at Mycenae

Another symbol related to the goddess cults is the double-headed axe which symbolises duality and unity in one. Also called the Labrys, from the Lydian word for axe, and the root of the word labyrinth. As a symbol of the goddess, it’s usually shown held by women in the art of the Minoan religion. The blades were often curved to resemble the crescent moon in its waxing and waning phases. So the double-headed axe represents the marriage of opposites and the cycles of time within eternity.

In Egyptian astrology, the Gemini constellation was called the ‘Two Stars’ or ‘Pimahi,’ which means ‘the United.’ The Dendera zodiac depicts the sign as a man and a woman, symbolising duality, but they’re holding hands so the opposites are united. This idea is also found in the Sed Festival where the symbolic death and rebirth of the pharaoh was acted out in a shamanic ritual that included a document called ‘the Secret of the Two Partners.’

The Sed Festival was a way to renew the pharaoh’s power and right to rule. He would descend into the underworld and become one with Osiris, the god of the dead, before returning to the living. The pharaoh was identified with Horus while alive, but Horus was also in constant battle with Seth, who killed Osiris. In the festival, the pharaoh received the secret knowledge that enabled him to overcome the duality between Horus and Seth, and was then known as ‘The Two Lords.

So the pharaoh embodied both Horus and Seth as a pair of opposites. The Secret of the Two Partners is that, behind the scenes, Horus and Seth are united despite being opposed:

“Horus and Seth are forever in conflict; whereas in the sphere of eternity, beyond the veil of time and space, where there is no duality, they are at one; death and life are at one; all is peace.” – Joseph Campbell, Oriental Mythology

The pharaoh contains the opposites within him, like Schrodinger’s cat: alive and dead at the same time. The one can’t exist without the other and neither will ever win outright – an eternal battle with peace at its centre. The same idea is encapsulated in the symbol of Taoism: Taijitu, or yin and yang.

Egyptian mythology also includes the idea of the ka, or spirit double. In one creation myth, the god Khnum shapes mankind from mud on his potter’s wheel, along with each person’s ka. The ancient Egyptian concept of the soul included five parts, one of which was the ka, the vital spark, often represented as a second image, or twin. The hieroglyph for the ka is two raised hands joined at the base, representing the duality of soul and body.

Gemini Myths – Hero Twins

Aside from creation myths, twins also feature in stories about culture heroes who build cities or bring other gifts of civilisation. Themes include sibling rivalry and competition for a birthright, or one twin may be good while the other is dark – the classic evil twin. Sometimes they form a strong bond despite having very different characters, while other pairs are basically the same.

For example, in Roman mythology we have a good/evil pair of twins in the story of Romulus and Remus. They were sons of Mars, the god of war, but abandoned at birth and suckled by a she-wolf. Later the twins discovered their true heritage as kings and set out to found their own city but couldn’t agree where to build it. In the ensuing fight, Romulus killed Remus and went on to rule as the first king of Rome.

The twin War Gods of the Navajo get on much better together. They undergo a series of shamanic tests and trials on a journey to find their father, the Sun, including clashing rocks and pairs of guardian animals. After passing all the tests they win lightning bolt arrows from their father so they can rid the world of monsters.

Meanwhile in the Popul Vuh, the creation story of the Maya, we have the tale of the Hero Twins, Xbalanque and Hunahpu, and how they overcome the Xibalba, gods of the underworld and Lords of Death. These twins also undergo various tests including a ball game that represents the battle between good and evil. The Death Lords try to trick them, but the twins win in the end and become the sun and the moon to watch over their people.

Trials of the Hero Twins: the Dark House, Razor House, Cold House, Jaguar House, Fire House, and Bat House (where they hide inside their blow-guns from the deadly bats)

The parents of divine twins are often a sky god and a goddess associated with horses. This is seen in many Celtic myths, but it’s also found in Hindu mythology, which gives us the Asvins: a pair of divine horsemen and healers who symbolise sunrise and sunset. The Asvins were born to the goddess Suranyu who turned herself into a horse to escape from Surya, the Sun. But he impregnated her anyway, as gods do.

This curious connection between twins and horses is also found in Greek mythology in the story of Castor and Pollux. These twins were inseparable and did everything together so were often called by one name: the Dioscuri, which means ‘sons of Zeus.’ Castor and Pollux, like the Asvins, were associated with horsemanship and were known for their ability to calm the ‘white horses’ of the ocean. But they weren’t born to a horse goddess; they were hatched from eggs and only one of them was a son of Zeus.

The story goes that Zeus ‘seduced’ Leda, the Queen of Sparta, by transforming himself into a swan. Leda then produced two eggs that each contained a pair of twins. One egg had Pollux and Helen (who would later cause the Trojan War); and the other egg had Castor and Clytemnestra (who would later marry Agamemnon, the military leader of the Greeks in the Trojan War).

So here we have two sets of twins with the same mother but different fathers. Pollux and Helen were the divine children of Zeus, while Castor and Clytemnestra were the mortal children of Leda’s husband, King Tyndareus of Sparta.

The sort-of twins grew up to become great adventurers and joined the Argonauts and travelled with Jason (see Aries Myths post). They had a great time fighting side by side, but it couldn’t last. Castor was killed in a fight with another set of twins, Idas and Lynceus, and because he was mortal, had to go to Hades.

Pollux was grief-stricken and asked Zeus to bring Castor back, or to accept his own life instead. Zeus took pity on his son and offered to give half his immortality to his brother. So the twins were reunited but they had to divide their time between Hades and Olympus – spending half the year as mortals in the underworld, and the other half as divine.

This division of labour illustrates the fact that the constellation of Gemini is only seen in the sky for half the year. Aside from that literal interpretation, Castor and Pollux represent the cyclical experience of life and death, and echoes the earlier stories of light and dark goddesses, like Inanna and Ereshkigal. The twins are either stuck in a mortal body subject to death and decay, or escaping into the realm of the spirit and eternal life.

The Meaning of Gemini

Gemini appears to be split in two: between intellect and emotion, light and dark moods, introversion and extroversion, masculine and feminine, spiritual and material, rational and mystical, and so on. This is true for everyone, but with Gemini it’s the central archetype driving their experience and they may struggle to understand themselves as a result.

Gemini can be prone to alternating moods and there may be a tendency to repress one side of the duality, or to swing wildly between them. Sometimes one side of the polarity is projected onto other people with whom you do battle, never realising that you’re actually fighting yourself. This is the fight with the dark twin or shadow: all the characteristics you can’t accept in yourself, both good and bad.

But this eternal battle between good and evil is a necessary part of life. The interplay between opposites is what drives creation, as shown in the symbol of yin and yang where each side is forever becoming its opposite. The in-breath becomes the out-breath. The diastole and systole of the heartbeat keeps you alive. Birth leads to death which leads to rebirth.

As long as you’re incarnate in a living body, you’ll be subject to duality. But Gemini knows that the balance of duality is always dynamic and constantly changing – never static and fixed. You can’t hold on to one side of the polarity and deny the other. If you repress one side it goes into the shadow and causes problems from the unconscious.

So to heal the apparent split, Gemini needs to balance the opposites within by integrating the shadow. This doesn’t mean getting rid of the conflict and living as an idealised version of yourself. Becoming whole doesn’t mean you’re an homogenised bland nothing of a person. Becoming whole means accepting both sides and seeing them as complementary pairs rather than warring opposites.

The polarities of life aren’t mutually exclusive – they support each other. In fact, neither can exist without the other. What is light without dark? Up without down? Yin without yang?

The twins represent the sacred marriage of the inner and the outer, mind and body, masculine and feminine. But there’s a reason this is symbolised by two people joined together. The sacred marriage doesn’t eliminate the opposites – they’re still there but in relationship to each other, rather than battling it out or denying the other its place.

The opposites are interdependent and the polarity between them implies a central position – a point where neither side is dominant: the still, quiet centre of the higher or true Self.

Self awareness requires a split in the mind. With that split comes duality and separation, and from that comes suffering and loneliness – and that drives the desire to connect and find the other or ‘twin soul.’ But the twin soul is within, and the search is really about the desire to heal the inner split.

Ultimately, Gemini needs to embrace the truth of alchemy: that transformation is driven by conflict which can only be resolved through transcendence. The conflict is never really resolved, only moved to a higher level – on and on, up and up – the process of continuous awakening whereby the divine becomes aware of itself within mankind.

Duality hurts, but it’s the only way divinity can awaken to itself.

Gemini on Film

Films that represent the Gemini archetype include anything that shows characters dealing with duality, knowledge, cons and heists, road movies, and obviously, twins. You’ll have your own favourites, but here’s a few examples of Gemini characters on film:

  • Pretty much all buddy movies, for example: Lethal Weapon or Midnight Run.
  • Rustin Cohle and Martin Hart and their complicated friendship in season one of True Detective.
  • Julius and Vincent Benedict, the most dissimilar twins ever in Twins.
  • Alvin Straight who drives an old mower on a long road trip to visit his estranged brother in The Straight Story.
  • Charles Van Doren with his encyclopaedic knowledge in Quiz Show.
  • Con artists Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser in American Hustle.
  • Brian Jackson, the information sponge who wants to be on University Challenge in Starter for 10.
  • Hypatia, the teacher of philosophy in Alexandria who is persecuted for her love of knowledge in Agora.
  • Stephen Strange, the neurosurgeon who learns magic to heal his hands but saves the world instead in Doctor Strange.

More on the magical world of Doctor Strange here. Next month we’ll look at Cancer Myths

Discover more Zodiac Myths here

More on Gemini:

Images: Gemini; Sanilurfa; Double Venus; Double Goddess; Hero Twins

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3 thoughts on “Zodiac Myths: The Story Behind Gemini

  1. Yeah, another spot on translation. My progressed sun just entered Gemini this month, haha next 30 going to be fun along with my Gemini moon. 🙂 So in 4 years my progressed sun conjuncts the moon.

    I have had some pretty intense trips this life centered around duality and the shadow, this post sounds like it’s coming out of my head.

    Liked by 1 person


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