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Its Origin and Meaning in Astrology
The above image is the established symbol (also called glyph) for the Zodiac sign Sagittarius, the Archer. It’s a simplified drawing of a bow and arrow. Both the Zodiac sign and its symbol have been along for ages.
The Zodiac division of the ecliptic into twelve parts, each assigned a Zodiac sign, is probably of Babylonian (Mesopotamia) origin. They were very early with astrology, mapping the sky and noting planetary movements thousands of years ago.
The Zodiac, very much like the one we know today, might have emerged in Mesopotamia around 1000 BC. But Babylonian astrology is probably far older than that.
The Babylonians connected this Zodiac sign and the constellation to something quite similar to the Archer: the soldier. That’s what they called the sign. To the Babylonians as well as later cultures, an archer would mostly be one of war. They may have gotten the connection from the shape of the constellation in the sky, although that’s rather vague.
The constellation of Sagittarius is possible to see as a picture of an archer, if the right stars are connected with lines. There’s something that could be the suggestion of a bow and a body behind it. Still, other things could just as easily be imagined. Through history, though, the image of the archer has been related to this constellation.
Several of the Zodiac constellations are at least equally vague in depicting their Zodiac sign. Here’s the constellation Sagittarius:
You might see or not that the formation of the stars suggest the shape of a bow and somebody holding it. But only when the image of the archer is added, this becomes clear.
Below is an antique illustration of the same constellation, where the figure of a centaur archer has been added. It’s from a 17th century book: Firmamentum sobiescianum, by Johannes Hevelius, 1690.
Sagittarius in Ink
Below is an ink version of the symbol for Sagittarius, which I did a number of years back in an experiment of using Japanese ink calligraphy (shodo) for old European astrology symbols. I’ve used these pictures on my astrology websites, mainly for fun and for the odd graphic effect, and I’ve seen them copied all over the Internet. I’m fine with that, although I think it wouldn’t hurt if the source was mentioned. Well, what to do?
Anyway, here’s that ink again, this time in the original black and white (click on the image to see a bigger version):
Sagittarius the Sign
As for the picture commonly used to represent the Sagittarius Zodiac sign, it’s been an image of an archer for as long as that has been its name – surely longer than the symbol described above has existed. Not just any archer, though, but a centaur, a man with the body of a horse. That mythological creature has been connected to the Zodiac sign and the constellation since the days of Ancient Greece. Below is one typical example, where the stars of the constellation Sagittarius have also been marked. It’s an illustration from Poeticon astronomicon, a 1482 book by Hyginus.
And here’s a statue by Antonio Canova (early 19th century), where Theseus battles a centaur:
For the header of this website, I simply used the image of an arrow – in this case a small accessory instead of a proper warrior’s arrow. Its shape is such that it’s obvious how the symbol for Sagittarius is composed. The background is a galaxy in outer space, as a reminder of the Sagittarius trait of always wanting to go far, far away.
Here are the symbols (glyphs) of all the twelve Zodiac signs, and links to pages telling more about each Zodiac sign symbol.