Eagle and Dragon

Eagle and Dragon April 12, 2013

Ox, Lion, Eagle, Man. The faces of the cherubim.

And the faces of four constellations of the Zodiac: Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, Aquarius, spaced every four constellations around the ecliptic.

Scorpio ? He’s no eagle.

There is an eagle constellation, Aquila, but it’s along the celestial equator rather than the ecliptic; it’s not part of the Zodiac.

So how did an eagle face make its way into the cherubim? Even if, as some have suggested, Scorpio was sometimes rendered as an eagle, why the variation, or shift?

Austin Farrer, always useful for answering obscure questions like this, suggests that the eagle wings given to the woman of Revelation 12 is an astronomical symbol:

“There is the great Eagle of the starry heaven, with his two wings, and the Lady of the Zodiac may well receive their help in fleeing from the pursuing Scorpion; for we all hope to escape the baleful omen of his name by accepting the Eagle in his place, when we reckon the four faces of the sky.” He claims that the river from the mouth of the dragon is also an astronomical symbol: “the great river of the sky, the Milky Way, goes up from the Scorpion and sweeps over the Eagle” ( The Revelation of St. John Divine: Commentary on the English Text , 148).

Elsewhere, Farrer provides an empirical explanation for the connection: “The constellation of the Eagle is not a zodiacal sign, but from St. John’s place of observation it rose together with the Scorpion, and the Scorpion is the middle sign of the autumn quarter” ( A Rebirth of Images: The Making of St. John’s Apocalypse , 196).

The scene in Revelation 12 thus includes three star signs: The woman (Virgo), the dragon (Draco, perhaps Scorpio), and the eagle (Aquila). If we take the dragon as Scorpio (or, as some suggest, Scorpio with Libra as his claws), then Virgo is rescued when Aquila swoops in to fly her to a place of safety. The rescuing eagle takes the place of the attacking dragon, the stinging scorpion.

We can then extrapolate this in a couple of directions: The cherubim lack a Scorpio face because Scorpio is the dragon, Satan the accuser. He lost his place in the throne of God by his seduction of Adam, and the eagle took his place. And we might also, even more speculatively, run this out in redemptive history. The eagle face is associated with the exilic and post-exilic era of Israel’s history, when Israel was ruled by Gentile empires. Those empires were intended to be rescuing eagles, rescuing Israel; but they could be monstrous dragons or stinging scorpions assaulting the woman laboring the bring the Messiah to the world.


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