At some point in the evolution of the Polar Configuration, direct sunlight fell on the group of planets poised in one spot in Earth’s ancient skies. It was then that Saturn acquired its bright crescent. Not only that, but the Earth’s rotation about its own axis — the same rotation that produces our familiar day/night cycle — created the daily cycle known to the ancients.
The beginning of time
It was the appearance of the crescent that allowed the ancients to discern the passage of time since Earth’s rotation made the crescent appear to circle Saturn. Prior to this epoch, the Saturnian configuration of planets could only be faintly seen in the always-lit sky, immersed in a plasma fog. Since there was no nighttime sky, the stars were entirely occluded. Hence, there was no frame of reference in the heavens by which to judge the march of time. It was a timeless epoch.
In reality, the ancients knew nothing of the day/night cycle we see today, since the ancient ‘night’ was no darker than the time of day we know as dusk and midday was only a little brighter. Instead, the cycle they referred to was that made by Saturn’s crescent as it rotated in the heavens. It was their only frame of reference for timekeeping. Hence, one of the alter egos of Saturn was the Latin Chronus or Greek Kronos, the god of time from whose name we get such words as chronometer and chronology. He came to be symbolized in the modern era as a bearded old man carrying a sickle. Of course, the sickle — the compulsory crescent symbol used to identify him and the role he plays — betrays his original identity.
The ancients used four prototypical images or archetypes to depict the daily cycle. They were actually the same group of planets, seen in four different positions. These four positions became the basis for all ancient imagery involving four icons, whether angels, beasts or gods.
The daily cycle
With the crescent in the inferior position, as depicted in the figure below, the sky was at its darkest and the configuration at its brightest, making this the most sacred moment in the ancient ‘day.’
It was the time we think of as midnight. Hence, all ancient mystery religions regarded night as the most holy part of the day. It is this image that is most often replicated in the iconography of all ancient cultures, as will be seen further on in this monograph. Ancient terminology sometimes referred to the crescent in this position as “the below.”
The image below depicts the crescent in its morning or ‘rising’ position where it is waning as the sky brightens with the rising sun.
Notice that the crescent rises on the right as the sky lightens and the splendor of the configuration begins to diminish. Hence, it was sometimes referred to anciently as “rising on the right.” Modern scholars, thinking that such terminology refers to a sunrise, usually translate archaic words for this phase in the daily cycle as “morning.” Such misinterpretation can only foster more confusion since the actual language applies to something dramatically different from modern terminology associated with the rising and setting of the sun.
The next phase came at noon or midday when the crescent was in the superior position, as in this image.
Notice that the entire image is somewhat subdued in this, its weakest phase. This was due to the fact that the sun was now at its zenith, causing the entire complex to appear slightly ‘washed out’ much as the moon appears in the present daytime sky. Archaic words which are typically translated as “night” refer to this phase in the daily cycle, representing the waning of the sun god’s “life,” “strength,” or “brightness.” Again, this conflicts with our view, which calls this day, not night. It was also called “the above.”
The image below depicts the crescent’s position at evening.
The sky is darkening and the image is waxing brighter. The crescent is in its downward phase, referred to anciently as “descending on the left.” Once again, translators are confused by this use of the language. The ancients referred to this as the beginning of the archaic “day.” Yet, the “descending” terminology seems to imply a sunset to modern scholars.
This confusion of terminology can only be dispelled when one recognizes the reality of the Polar Configuration and the rotation of the crescent in ancient skies. Otherwise, attempting to apply current terminology for the sunrise and sunset to the archaic order of the heavens only compounds the confusion.
This also explains why the Jewish Sabbath now begins at sunset, because that time of day corresponds to the beginning of the ancient “day.” Tellingly, the archaic use was retained in the biblical Creation account where it is written, “the evening and the morning were the first day,” rather than describing it as we would today, “morning and evening.”
Of course, echoes of the original timekeeping language occur even into modern times. Archaic words for the brightening of Saturn will usually be translated as the “rising” of the sun, though the literal meanings will be “to grow bright,” to “come to life,” “to grow strong,” etc. It is also referred to archaically as “the left.” Oddly, the crescent is descending as the ancient day begins, again making translation difficult, if not impossible if one does not understand the true origin of the language.
Of course, the crescent continues to ‘rotate’ until it is once again in the inferior position, as shown in the first illustration.
As can easily be seen in these four images, the entire complex seemed to completely rotate with every rotation of the Earth. Thus, it served as an accurate timepiece. Prior to the arrival of the crescent, there was no way to distinguish day from night since the world was illuminated nearly equally at all times. Hence, earth’s inhabitants perceived that they had passed from one creation epoch, where there was only timelessness, to the next where ‘time’ began. Thus, any scriptural reference to the beginning of time likely points to this epoch.
Of course, as with all the stages in the development of the Saturn configuration, one must ask, “What does this look like?” Clearly, the ancients attributed many characteristics to this image.
Cows, ships and iconographic elaboration
One of the most dominant images in ancient religion was that of a bull, cow, calf or ox. The juxtaposition of the original image or archetype and the cow icon used to represent it makes it easy to see how one was derived from the other.
Even the Joseph Smith facsimiles in The Pearl of Great Price have an example of this icon.
Remarkably, Joseph’s explanation of this cow image was that it is “one of the governing planets,” which Saturn certainly was, if not the governing planet. In addition, he remarks that the Egyptians said it to be the Sun (Ra), which is the role Saturn played in the Polar Configuration. The Babylonians as well called Saturn the Sun (Shamash, or the biblical Chemosh).
When the ancients wished to represent the crescent/cow in its four primary positions during the daily cycle, they could properly use four separate images.
However, it would be equally correct and easier to execute by integrating the four images into one circular icon while illustrating the same symbolic idea, as seen in this Mesopotamian figure.
Thus we see how the original icons evolved into ever more complex and elaborate images.
Of course, the end result of such elaboration can be seen, for example, in our temple baptismal fonts, which are set upon the backs of twelve, life-sized oxen standing in a circle.
The logic for the font and oxen elaboration stems from the previously explained integration of four images into one and the image seen below. Not only did Saturn acquire a crescent, but so did Venus and Mars.
So, not only did the three planets appear nested, but so did their crescents as well, as seen above. If each of three crescents were represented as horns and each had four primary positions or stations in the daily cycle—right, left, above and below—the result would be twelve sets of horns (3 x 4) or twelve oxen, as represented in the temple baptismal font. This is how the symbolism evolved from simple to complex, from image to symbolic icon. In a later incarnation of the Polar Configuration, for example, these three crescents became the two arms and four wings of the four creatures Ezekiel saw in vision.
The derivation and evolution of these images is a vital concept that must be grasped in order to follow the complex elaborations of this and the many other archetypes derived from the Saturn grouping of planets. An entire book could be devoted to this symbol alone and the images it instigated. Still more amazing, this is only one of dozens of archetypes derived from the many metamorphoses of the configuration through time, before it finally disappeared altogether from the sky.
The celestial ship
Another prominent archetype of the crescent was the celestial ship, which was said by the Egyptians to sail around heaven once each day, while anchored at the top of its mast — a ridiculous image to the modern mind until considered in the context of the Polar Configuration, where it makes perfect sense.
One of several uses of this celestial ship image, derived from the crescent, can be seen in Joseph Smith’s facsimiles from Abraham. In the hypocephalus found on page 36 of the Pearl of Great Price, one finds a graphic representation of this crescent image.
Joseph wrote in his explanation of this figure, “Is made to represent God, sitting upon his throne, clothed with power and glory ...” To the Egyptians, the figure was the sun god, Ra, who sat on a brilliant, shining throne, poised on the great celestial boat. The image of the Polar Configuration answers to both those characterizations. The god, (Mars as Horus) is seated on his throne (Venus), which sets in the ship (Saturn’s crescent), “clothed with power and glory” because of Saturn’s brightness. Throne and god were seen to sit within the crescent ship, and so they are depicted in the hieroglyph and described in the texts. Joseph Smith’s explanation correctly follows that pattern.
This figure again utilizes the celestial boat imagery, and further demonstrates the elaboration of these basic symbols that took place in all ancient cultures. Joseph writes that this symbol is Ra (Ra-u-keey-ang), and “signifies expanse, or the firmament of the heavens ... also a numerical figure, in Egyptian signifying one thousand ...,” an appropriate connotation since the crescent ‘measured’ (spanned) the ‘expanse’ (entire width) of ‘heaven’ (Saturn) as can clearly be seen in the image of the Saturn configuration.
Indeed, what we find is that the text describes the symbol and the symbol clarifies the text. So it is with all these images. They appear in ancient texts, including the scriptures, as gods, creatures, objects, angels, etc. This is the symbolic language of the prophets, and it can be written with words as well as illustrated with symbols because it was all originally derived from icons or images. The metaphorical language sometimes seems as bizarre as its iconographic counterpart. Yet, seen in the context of the Saturn complex, each very accurately explains the other as well as becoming easily understood.
Depicted here are two prototypical images or archetypes derived from the original polar or Saturn configuration (as seen in figures 1-4), variations of which can be seen in ancient art and metaphor the world over. The celestial ship and cow symbols were derived from the archetype image on the left. Compare it to the images on the Joseph Smith papyrus above.
Both symbols can even be seen on modern temples, as seen below.
Below are several examples of common Egyptian glyphs that illustrate the way the crescent was depicted in that culture, which will help explain why they appear as they do on modern temples.
The first of the three panels here shows how elaborate the illustrations could become and how common it was to duplicate the same archetype with a variety of different symbols, while still preserving all the basic concepts. Note that the upraised and spread arms were used to represent the crescent, a presentation that should be familiar to Latter-day Saints. Note also that the horns of the cow or the back-to-back lions also represent the crescent. It is confusing to the modern, Western mind, but with an understanding of the original image, the archetype presented by the Saturn’s crescent, what once looked like a form of symbolic fantasy becomes a systematic way of remembering the past.
Once again, we see the crescent portrayed as arms or horns — or both — extended about the central orb or enclosure. Of course, the celestial ship icon would be equally correct, as used in the Joseph Smith papyri. Note how a variety of images are used to depict the same thing, each conveying a slightly different message to the Egyptian mind.
The extended arms (ka) as used here represent the crescent in both its superior and inferior positions, the ‘above’ and the ‘below,’ inferring the two primary times of day: midnight and midday. It thus refers to the crescent’s daily cycle and the rotation of the polar enclosure.
As in the icon, so in the myth
So, too, we see such variations in the stories used to depict or elaborate such images. They shift characters and settings easily without losing their identity, once seen in the context of the Saturn configuration. This applies, in some cases, to scriptural accounts as well.
It is easy to see how scholars and Egyptologists have become confused by this tendency to endlessly elaborate these images in art and text. It is also easy to see how biblical scholars mistake some scriptural stories as accounts of real events, when they are really elaborate metaphors or narrative derived from ancient images. However, with knowledge of the original apparition in heaven, it becomes relatively easy to follow the variations, whether in scripture, mythical stories and sagas or in the vast reservoir of imagery and iconography employed in tomb and temple art.
It is stunning to consider that so much of the ancient mysteries—including the symbolism of the scriptures—are interconnected and easily decipherable when considered in the context of the Saturn configuration. Egyptian icons that once made no sense become teaching tools designed to remember some aspect of Earth’s ancient heavens. It is for this same reason they are used in modern temple icons, as we have seen.
These illustrations demonstrate the common practice of placing a symbol over the head of an anthropomorphic figure to identify them with their planetary original or archetype. This led to the idea of a crown or halo over the heads of deities and saints in later cultures. Here, the crescent plays a primary role in the identification process.
Once again, the original images give us a frame of reference heretofore unknown, which allows us to identify them as the Egyptians intended. It is likely, for this same reason, that Joseph was able to make as much headway as he did in understanding Egyptian texts because he understood the relationship between the ancient heavenly prototypes and the symbols and language that evolved from them. Now, every student of the scriptures can use these tools to better understand those ancient texts for themselves.
Depicted here are illustrations from all over the Mesopotamian area showing the crescent beneath the circle or star to demonstrate the variety and commonality of this imagery. All the star images within the circle are extremely significant, because Venus altered its appearance to become the prototypical star, nestled within the crescent in a later phase of the Polar Configuration.
In fact, now we can understand figures 22 and 23 in the Joseph Smith facsimile pictured below. The baboons are drawn with orbs-in-crescent on their heads, designating them as stars/suns, just as Joseph said. It is a perfectly logical correlation, in ancient symbology.
The star-in-crescent image below is Babylonian, said to be Shamash, the sun. But it is also the name of the planet Saturn — correctly so, since Saturn was the original ‘sun,’ the more perfect ‘sun’ of antiquity.
Note that this is more accurately a portrait — an ancient ‘snapshot,’ if you will — of the ancient Saturn configuration, even carved in stunning relief. The center orb is Mars. Behind it is Venus in her resplendent phase as the original ‘star.’ The crescent of Saturn is pronounced. This illustration is more representative than it is symbolic, unlike most of the previous illustrations we have examined.
A close look at this dramatic image reveals the planets in conjunction: In the center we see Mars nested inside Venus, which has extended protrusions formed by plasma streams erupting from the surface, giving it the appearance of a star. The crescent encloses the whole, just as it did in antiquity, even though the sculptor has taken some liberty with the extent of the crescent’s cusps, which was natural since he knew these details only from more ancient art and text, not by personal experience. The orb of Saturn is implied rather than depicted, which is in keeping with the way the ancients recalled the whole configuration. That is, Saturn was a rather passive actor when compared with the dynamic ‘personalities’ of Venus, Mars and the Crescent.
In fact, the above image makes no sense when viewed from the perspective of present cosmology. If the Babylonian artist meant this to be the sun, how could it show a crescent? There is no crescent on the sun. If it is meant to depict the moon in crescent phase, how can a star appear in front of the moon or within its crescent? It is a physical impossibility in our present heavens. Clearly, this is meant to depict an order of the heavens vastly different from that which we know today.
Most impressive throughout all this is how accurately Joseph Smith evaluated the Egyptian texts and icons he had before him. He was no fraud, as so many have attempted to portray him. He knew what he was talking about, having learned through study and revelation. These details of Egyptian culture were totally unknown in Joseph’s day. Further, when his work in Egyptian texts is examined in light of the Saturn configuration — a very recent hypothesis, historically speaking, and likely the most correct — Joseph’s interpretations shine even more brightly than when seen by the dim light of orthodox Egyptology. He saw these things as modern catastrophists, who are cosmologists and mythologists, see them—certainly far more accurately than anyone alive in his day.
This assessment also serves to bring Dibble’s illustration into sharper focus.
Joseph, Dibble claimed, drew this picture, which depicts three orbs moving around the sun, locked in a polar alignment position with a common axis of rotation.
Taken together with the remarkable correlations elucidated above, this illustration is powerful evidence that Joseph Smith understood the nature of the Polar Configuration and its impact on the imagination of mankind, as the virtual snapshot below demonstrates when compared to the Dibble illustration.
Perhaps it will be useful once again to see how this unique arrangement of planets, envisioned by Joseph Smith, would have looked from the Earth, anciently.
Bear in mind, that this is only the smallest part of the prodigious body of evidence that argues eloquently for this view of ancient history and the gospel. Exploring all its facets, which will be done over the course of time by this author as time permits, is a mind-expanding experience of the highest order — especially where scriptural, gospel and temple symbolism are concerned.
The appearance of this marvelous spectacle in heaven made such a lasting impression on all mankind that cultures and religions the world over reverenced and duplicated it in endless variety. No wonder the ancient prophets and apostles rejoiced when they saw these things in vision. It is no wonder, too, that the iconography and metaphorical symbolism of the restored gospel should respect and perpetuate this time-honored tradition. If the Polar Configuration thesis is correct, then it serves to explain why a modern prophet felt compelled to incorporate its traditional symbolism in temples. It explains why all the revelation he received properly used this same metaphorical imagery. It explains his intense interest in ancient Egyptian texts and hieroglyphs. And most invaluable to us, it provides a systematic explanation of the most enigmatic parts of our religion.
This is a powerful witness of Joseph’s calling as a prophet. In this author’s opinion, this view of ancient history and the gospel puts a virtual lock on his claims of revelation. He was precisely what he said he was. Have no doubt of that fact.
© Anthony E. Larson, 2002