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Scorpio, the Eagle

ScorpioScorpio, the eighth sign of the zodiac, is traditionally represented as a scorpion, but sometimes it is symbolized by a very different creature, the eagle (occasionally the phoenix). Why might this be so?

Christian tradition links the four Evangelists (the attributed authors of the canonical Gospels) with four symbols: Matthew with a Man or Cherub, Mark with a Lion, Luke with a Bull and John with an Eagle. These symbols are derived from Ezekiel's famous vision in which he saw four creatures, each with four faces, as described in Ezekiel 1:10:

Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a man, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle.

Parts of this vision are rehashed by John in Revelation. In the fourth chapter, four creatures are again encountered, and their appearance is described in Revelation 4:7:

The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle.

The World These symbols for the four Evangelists are encountered in Christian and mystical art through the ages. They are seen, for example, in the four corners of the World (illustrated right), the twenty-first card of the Major Arcana of the Tarot.

The twelve astrological signs can be divided into three groups, each governed by a quality: Cardinal, Fixed or Mutable. The Fixed signs are Aquarius, Leo, Taurus and Scorpio, whose symbols are a man (water-bearer), lion, bull and scorpion respectively. The first three of these match directly three of the Evangelist symbols, and when Scorpio is considered in its alternate guise of the eagle, this matches too. But which use of the eagle came first?

Alas, we do not know: it is difficult to find references to the earliest known representation of Scorpio as the Eagle. It is possible that the exact match of the vision of Ezekiel with the fixed signs of astrology is simply an amazing coincidence, but it seems pretty certain that one spawned the other. This leaves two alternatives. Firstly, that the writer of Ezekiel based his vision on the fixed signs of astrology, possibly in some rudimentary form, at a time when Scorpio or its precursor was considered to be the sign of the Eagle. The more likely option is that the alternative attribution of the eagle to Scorpio was introduced specifically to harmonize the fixed signs with the Ezekiel or Evangelist symbols. Whatever the sequence of events, the correspondences are summarized in the table below:

Fixed Sign: Aquarius
Symbol: Man Lion Bull Eagle
Evangelist: Matthew Mark Luke John

The four Evangelist symbols are, of course, associated with the four elements, but not always consistently. Often, the element of the corresponding astrological sign is used, giving: Man-Air, Lion-Fire, Bull-Earth and Eagle-Water, but some prefer the more naturalistic correspondence of Man-Water, Lion-Fire, Bull-Earth and Eagle-Air.

The eagle and the phoenix are symbolically related, so the occasional use of the phoenix as a symbol for Scorpio is more of a simple variation than the radical change encountered in the shift from scorpion to eagle.