Astro Journal · Mythology

The Mythology of the Zodiac: Scorpio Myths

We leave behind the balanced scales and risk the sting of the scorpion. As a fixed water sign, Scorpio penetrates the darkness in search of emotional power and the mysteries of life and death. The old is mulched and transformed into the mud where the lotus of wisdom grows.

Scorpio is a feminine sign and ruled by Mars and Pluto. It’s balanced and complemented by the opposite sign of Taurus, ruled by Venus. The Scorpio glyph looks like an M with arrow-shaped tail, like its ancient ruler Mars. It represents the Kundalini serpent energy, as already seen in the Virgo glyph. In Virgo, the energy is turned inwards and self-contained, but in Scorpio it bursts outwards and upwards.

Serpent energy is the life force and can be creative or destructive depending on how it’s used. This depends on the level of awareness and self-mastery, so it can indicate wisdom and spiritual awakening, but also the lower instincts of lust, passion, and power. These levels of energy are shown in the dual symbolism of Scorpio and the two creatures that represent the sign: the scorpion and the eagle.

According to the Greeks, the Scorpio constellation is the scorpion responsible for killing Orion, the great hunter. There are multiple versions of the story but they all come down to Orion getting too big for his boots and annoying various goddesses with his boasting and arrogance. In one tale, Gaia discovered Orion was planning to kill her beloved animals so she sent the scorpion to attack him. In another, Orion upsets Artemis so she either kills him with an arrow or sets the scorpion on him. Whatever happened, Orion brought it on himself.

In the northern hemisphere, this time of year is associated with death and descent into the underworld. But Scorpio is also associated with renewal and regeneration through the symbolism of snakes and serpents, as well as the phoenix, the mythical bird consumed by fire and reborn from its own ashes. This is a complex sign with rich and fertile symbolism, so let’s dive into the depths and see where we end up…

Scorpio Myths

The vulture pillar at Gobekli Tepe

One of the earliest representations of a scorpion can be seen at Gobekli Tepe, the hunter-gatherer temple built c. 9,500 BCE. On one of the pillars is carved a scorpion and above that, a vulture with a ball balanced on its wing. This might be the head of the figure seen at the base of the pillar below the scorpion: a headless man, possibly a shaman or deceased soul. The vulture carries the head, which represents the soul, into the afterlife or the otherworld.

Andrew Collins has made a convincing connection between these figures and the constellations of Scorpio and Cygnus, which sit at either end of the Milky Way’s Great Rift. The stone shows the journey of the soul into the afterlife, as represented by Cygnus. In 9,500 BCE, the Milky Way would have stretched upwards into the sky as Scorpio appeared on the horizon, with Cygnus above at the meridian. (See Figure 3 here.)

In Sumer, Scorpio was called Mul Gir-Tab, which means ‘sharp weapon’ or ‘burning sting.’ The entrance to the Sumerian underworld was guarded by scorpion-people who were half-human and half-scorpion. They were the warrior offspring of Tiamat and stood guard at the gate of the sun where it descended every night into darkness.

The Sumerian underworld was ruled by Ereshkigal, Lady of the Great Place and Dispenser of the Water of Life. She became Queen of the Underworld after being abducted by Kur, the cosmic serpent who represented chaos and the unknown. Enki battled the serpent and tried to rescue her, but only succeeded in returning to the world with the seeds of the Tree of Knowledge, the Huluppu Tree.

Ereshkigal was the twin sister of Enki, who was the god of magic and wisdom in the outer world, so she represented inner knowledge or ‘Knowing Within.’ The underworld was seen as the realm of justice and atonement where you went to learn the mysteries of life and discover hidden treasures. This is seen in the story of Inanna’s descent into the underworld to gain power and shows that the dark side of life has something to teach the light side.

Serket guarding a tomb

In Egypt, one of the gates to the underworld was guarded by Serket, the scorpion goddess, depicted with a scorpion on her head or as a scorpion with a woman’s head. Serket was seen as both protective and destructive. She held the knowledge of poisons, venoms and antidotes, and protected the canopic jars containing the organs of the deceased. She also accompanied Osiris as he journeyed through the underworld to be reborn as Horus at dawn.

Osiris was god of the underworld and was the brother and consort of Isis, the Queen of Heaven. He judged the dead after their hearts had been weighed (see Libra Myths) and, as a fertility god, ensured the renewal of life (see Virgo Myths). Osiris was killed by his twin brother Set, who chopped him up and scattered the pieces around Egypt. Isis retrieved the various parts and put him back together long enough to conceive Horus. Except for that brief moment of resurrection, Osiris remained dead and was reborn as his son, Horus.

Set represents the powers of darkness and destruction, but without his actions Osiris wouldn’t have been able to perform his function as god of fertility and renewal. This is why these gods are portrayed as twins – they’re really two aspects of the same force working to achieve the same goal – immortality.

Earlier fertility gods were simply sacrificed and dismembered in order to ensure the continuation of life. But with Osiris, the emphasis shifts to the transformation of the god himself. His myth is about renewal in the afterlife and the process of returning to the Imperishable Ones in the stars. Ultimately, Osiris becomes immortal through regeneration and becomes an akh, or shining one. (More on that in my novel, The Shining Ones)

The snake goddess of Knossos

In Greece, serpents were connected with healing and prophecy and in the ancient Minoan culture, figurines of snake goddesses have been found in people’s homes. They date to c. 1,600 BCE and could be representations of a priestess or goddess. The snake goddess of Knossos is a woman holding two snakes with raised arms, with a panther on her crown.

The Greek god of the underworld was Hades, whose name means ‘the unseen one,’ and he wore an invisibility helmet when visiting the upper world. The Romans called him Pluto, which means ‘riches,’ relating to the wealth found in fertility, precious stones, metals and oil. He’s most famous for his abduction of Persephone who then became Queen of the Underworld.

Persephone means ‘female thresher of grain’ or ‘bringer of destruction,’ a hint of the initiation she underwent into the ways of the underworld. She brought about her own abduction by picking a flower put there by Hades, and then ate some pomegranate seeds which meant she had to stay in the underworld for part of each year. Together with her mother Demeter, Persephone presided over the Eleusinian Mysteries which were said to reveal the secrets of immortality through death and renewal. (see Virgo Myths)

Scorpio Myths – Heroes

The transformative power of the ancient mother goddesses is often represented as a dragon or World Serpent. As we saw in Cancer Myths, the earliest goddesses contained both life and death within themselves, but were later split into separate domains. Eventually, male gods took over the role of guardian of the dead and heroes were dispatched to slaughter the ancient serpents.

Serpents and dragons represent the forces of the unconscious and the archetype of the Terrible Mother. They stand for instincts, chaos and the destructive power of nature. In eastern mythology dragons are seen as more positive figures, but in the west, we tend to kill the poor things.

Hercules clobbers the Hydra

A key dragon-slaying myth for Scorpio is the tale of Hercules and the Lernean Hydra. The nine-headed Hydra guards the entrance to the underworld and has been feasting on the locals. In the fight, Hercules cuts off one head, but several more grow in its place. So he tries to club it to death, hacking away at its heads until he’s exhausted and the Hydra just gets bigger and sprouts more bloody heads.

Then Hercules remembers that the Hydra can’t stand the light, so he gets down on his knees and raises the beast above his head and shoves it into the sunlight. The Hydra shrivels up, leaving just one immortal head that Hercules buries under a rock. In another version, he uses fire to cauterise the wounds of the loped off heads so no more can grow.

The Hydra represents Scorpio’s shadow and the fight with Hercules reveals what happens when you try to kill unconscious compulsions – they tend to get worse. Confronting darkness head-on usually makes it stronger. The more frantically you push an obsession or fear back into the darkness, the more it pushes back until it takes over and you lose control of yourself.

Hercules provides the solution: bring the beast into the light or burn it with fire. Light and fire are both symbolic of awareness or consciousness. You have to enter the darkness without losing yourself and retain your conscious awareness. This means balancing the opposites, not by getting rid of the darkness but by allowing it to transform by exposing it to the light.

A Gorgon with a snazzy twin serpent belt

Another dragon-slaying myth is the tale of Perseus who had to retrieve the head of Medusa, one of the Gorgons. Medusa had once been a beautiful woman, but she was transformed into a hag with snakes for hair because she was raped by Poseidon in Athena’s temple. Anyone who was unfortunate enough to look into her face was instantly turned to stone.

Medusa represents the rage of the dark feminine and outraged instincts that have been denied. This often manifests as an unconscious rage that eats away at you from the inside, poisoning everything in your life. It freezes life and stops anything new from growing, leading to bitterness, hatred, apathy and nihilism. It’s an aspect of reptilian nature that wants to pull you back into unconsciousness and death.

Perseus manages to sever Medusa’s head by watching her reflection in his shield. Again, this represents the capacity for thought, awareness and consciousness. You can’t look directly at the destructiveness represented by Medusa because you wouldn’t be able to stand it. The terror and blind rage is paralysing and can leave you traumatised.

After Perseus has severed the head, Pegasus, the winged horse, springs from Medusa’s body. Pegasus was fathered by Poseidon but Medusa couldn’t give birth to him because she was frozen in rage at her treatment. Pegasus represents the bringing together of opposites: the animal and the spirit. He shows the possibility of transcendence without denying nature and the body.

Athena, the goddess of wisdom, was responsible for turning Medusa into a Gorgon and helped Perseus to defeat her. She represents consciousness and the ability to act with discernment, but her wisdom came from an ancient source. She had an image of Medusa’s head on her shield, which, according to the Iliad, “produced a sound as from a myriad roaring dragons.” So Athena drew on the serpent power of the ancient goddesses to fuel her wisdom.

The Meaning of Scorpio

The serpent power of the underworld is neither good nor bad – it simply is. It’s the part of nature that demands change and evolution. You’ll tend to experience this as a meeting with fate and necessity – the things you can’t negotiate with or overcome, except through surrender. That doesn’t mean giving in to the darkness, but using it to transform yourself.

Scorpio is about using the serpent energies to transform the self through a confrontation with the powers of the unconscious. The goal is to overcome death and dissolution and avoid falling back into chaos and unconsciousness.

The dragon or monster fight represents the battle of the ego with the forces of the unconscious as it struggles to become conscious. The monster can be experienced within yourself or projected into the world and seen as evil and destructiveness in others. But it can only really be dealt with fully within because the outer reflects the inner.

Quite friendly really…

The dragon is your own inner darkness and conquering it requires self-mastery. This means mastering your instincts and desire nature, and channelling the serpent energy into creating more life – through healing and creativity and the transformation of old structures and relationships. This is when the serpent becomes the eagle and you find the treasure hidden in the darkness.

Everybody has access to this darkness, but Scorpio is especially attuned to it – not just Scorpio Sun, but anyone with a lot of Scorpio planets, a strongly placed Pluto, or a packed 8th house. Scorpionic types need to transform the darkness within themselves or it will consume them – which is no fun for anybody.

The negativity of the shadow side of Scorpio has a corrosive effect on life. It creates the kind of cynicism and pessimism that sucks the joy out of everything, leaving nothing but despair and negation. The ultimate symbol of this negation is the devil – the force that opposes life. But the devil serves a useful purpose: to goad us into waking up and becoming more conscious. (More on that here: Sympathy for the Devil: the Nature of Evil)

The devil is what you get when you fall back into unconsciousness. Being unconscious is seductive because of the pain of being human. When faced with suffering it can seem easier to give up and sink into nihilism and destructiveness. But this is really an attempt to avoid suffering and stop life from changing.

The power of Scorpio lies in the ability to enter the darkness and heal the split in your psyche – the wound at the heart of being human – the pain of being conscious. This is how you transform poison into medicine and transmute darkness into healing. To do this, you need to be sensitive and intuitive, but also tough – like Scorpio.

The mysteries of life and death are the mysteries of soul growth and redemption. Death isn’t the end, but a transmutation of energies – a shift in consciousness or a transfiguration of form.

The riches that hide in the darkness aren’t easy to access and there’s always a price to pay. Diamonds can only be created under extreme pressure and you never get something for nothing.

The cost of increasing your consciousness involves a confrontation with necessity, and that means sacrifice and surrender to death, disintegration and suffering. But out of the darkness – hopefully – comes insight, wholeness and healing.

You might just have to go through hell to get there.

Scorpio on Film

Films that represent the Scorpio archetype include stories about overcoming a monster, whether that’s a mythical beast or an evil person or corporation. You can also include anything about death, the occult and magic, as well as detectives or characters uncovering mysteries. You’ll have your own favourites, but here are a few examples of Scorpio on film:

  • Harry Potter overcoming the darkness in himself to defeat Voldemort in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, but all of the films have some sort of dragon fight.
  • Rustin Cohle and Martin Hart bringing the truth to light in the face of evil in True Detective.
  • Nelson the medical student who wants to die to find out what happens next and gets more than he bargains for in Flatliners.
  • Captain Willard and Colonel Kurtz who journey into the heart of darkness in Apocalypse Now.
  • Ofelia entering the labyrinth and completing three tests to become queen of the underworld in Pan’s Labyrinth.
  • Sabrina Spielrein exploring the art of psychoanalysis to heal herself with Jung and Freud in A Dangerous Method.
  • Phil Connors, the selfish weatherman who gets trapped in a loop until he learns how to love in Groundhog Day.
  • Elizabeth Shaw descending into the underworld to meet her maker and getting more than she bargained for in Prometheus.
  • David the mad android who tries to reverse engineer his own version of life in Alien: Covenant.

More on the gnostic alchemical world of Prometheus here, and the monstrous world of Alien: Covenant here. Next month we’ll look at Sagittarius Myths

Discover more Zodiac Myths here

More on Scorpio:

Explore further: Surviving Bluebeard: How to Deal with the Predator and Embracing Darkness: How to Feed Your Demons

Images: Scorpio; Gobekli; Serket; Minoan; Gorgon; Hydra

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