From the time of ancient Rome (and perhaps earlier) the constellation of the Pleiades was known in the western astrological tradition for its association with homosexuality. But the Pleiadian linkage to queers is now all but lost for some very unusual reasons.
Astronomically, the Pleiades is located in a corner of the zodiac sign of Taurus and consists of several hundred stars about 500 light years from Earth, a very short distance in galactic terms, sort of like the neighbours down the street. Six stars are visible in the Pleiades to the unaided eye, more than a dozen may be seen using field glasses, and several dozen more than that with even a basic telescope, making the Pleiades a favourite object of observation for amateur astronomers. Early evening in October and November are the best time to view the Pleiades.
Mythologically, since the days of ancient Greece the myths surrounding the Pleiades always speak of the Seven Sisters (a most appropriate name for a gay constellation) and the sisters’ adventures with various gods and goddesses, most of which are the usual mythological soap opera involving boring heterosexual exercises in dysfunction.
Historically, by the time the ancient Romans were compiling the known astrological literature of the world, the Pleiades were firmly linked to homosexuality. As a civilization, the Romans did little to advance or develop the study of astrology on their own, but they did codify and organize earlier astrological traditions from Greece, Egypt and perhaps elsewhere which are now lost to us.
Modern research into ancient astrology is still in its early stages and has not yet discovered how or why the ancient astrologers connected homosexuality to the Pleiades, but given the known lack of imagination amongst Roman astrologers, it is likely they snitched the association between the Pleiades and homosexuality from an earlier civilization.
For instance the ancient Greek culture, which the Romans admired, valued homosexual relationships over heterosexual relationships. Keep in mind that while modern research into ancient Greek astrology is expanding, it is being done by clueless straights who have no real interest in the gay connection to the Pleiades in ancient times. Thus we cannot say for sure yet what ancient Greek astrologers might have had to say about the Pleiades.
However, we do know that much of the astrology which the Romans compiled had been derived from the earlier ancient Greek society. Nonetheless in true imperial Roman style, the Roman astrologers failed to preserve any attribution about where the references to the Pleiades came from. (Lack of academic attribution was a common Roman practice in all Roman intellectual pursuits as it turned out.) Instead the Romans simply spelled out what the then current thinking was about the constellation.
Here is a taste of Pleiades astrological lore from the Roman astrology of 1900 years ago:
“The Pleiades, sisters who vie with each other’s radiance. Beneath their influence devotees of Bacchus (god of wine and ecstasy) and Venus (goddess of love) are born into the kindly light, and people whose insouciance runs free at feasts and banquets and who strive to provoke sweet mirth with biting wit.
“They will always take pains over personal adornment and an elegant appearance they will set their locks in waves of curls or confine their tresses with bands, building them into a thick topknot, and they will transform the appearance of the head by adding hair to it; they will smooth their hairy limbs with the porous pumice, loathing their manhood and craving for sleekness of arm.
“”They adopt feminine dress, footwear donned not for wear but for show, and an affected effeminate gait. They are ashamed of their sex; in their hearts dwells a senseless passion for display, and they boast of their malady, which they call a virtue. To give their love is never enough, they will also want their love to be seen”.
["Astronomica", Manilius, 1st century AD. Edited and translated by G. P. Goold, 1977 by President and Fellows of Harvard College].
Okay, nobody said the ancient Roman astrologers were advocates of Gay Liberation, although Roman society was remarkably tolerant of homosexual behaviour. Several Roman emperors were gay or bi, and one, Emperor Trajan, had his “paedogogium“, a travelling harem of young men which accompanied him on his journeys throughout the empire.
Interestingly, the ancients did not ascribe homosexuality to the Pleiades as the constellation’s prime attribute, but rather as a secondary attribute. The primary attributes were commonly said to be successful journeys, particulary for sailors, success in agriculture, and success through use of intelligence. Negative omens for the constellation included blindness and wantonness.
FWIW, the references I was able to find from ancient Rome seemed to imply a homosexual association only for men with the Pleiades. So far I am unaware of such similar correlation between the Pleiades and women amongst the Roman astrological writings. However, there are extant fragments from the ancient Greek lesbian poet, Sappho, making references to the Pleiades. Of course most of us know that the word, lesbian, derives from the Greek island of Lesbos and the earlier Greek civilization which preceded Rome by several hundred years.
The guidelines to astrology set by the ancient Romans were (more or less) the reference point for western astrology for the next thousand years following the fall of Rome. True, during the Middle Ages these references to homosexuality were anything but complimentary (in fact, downright hostile), but at least our presence was being noted, however negatively. So there we were, buried away in obscure Latin texts for all those centuries.
Since modern Western astrology traces its roots back directly to the Roman codification of the earlier astrological studies, one might (incorrectly) leap to the conclusion that the association of the Pleiades with homosexuality was preserved for us right to this day.
Alas, that’s not quite what happened, although not for any specific reasons of anti-queer intellectualism (although that was common enough in astrology up to and including the twentieth century), but instead because of an unrelated development in the evolution of western astrology in which the Pleiadian connection got caught.
Over the past 200 years or so in Western astrology, study of the so-called fixed stars has fallen from use because of technical advances in astronomy. Fixed stars (and this includes non-zodiac constellations) were, up to the late 1700s, an important part of interpreting a natal chart.
But better telescopes began an era of discovery of new outer planets, starting with Uranus in the late 1700s, and western astrologers have dwelt significantly on the new planetary bodies the astronomers have been locating ever since.
The Pleiades constellation is simply another (minor) grouping of fixed stars which has been swept aside by western astrologers as heavies such as Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, the asteroids, Chiron (the centaurs), and the trans-Neptunian planetary bodies have grabbed the fancy and attention of most modern astrologers. Modern thinking (and I subscribe to this thinking) is that these newly-discovered planetary bodies are far more interesting and useful to our clients than the fixed stars ever were.
Still, realizing that we may have lost something by forgetting our past, a few modern astrologers are starting to research the forgotten ancient astrological methodologies to see if any are still relevant. Some of the ancient astrological techniques likely will be worth dusting off and re-incorporating into our modern study. But frankly, I have my doubts that the Pleiades connection to queers will make the cut. There are two reasons for this.
First, as I expound at length elsewhere in this website, no astrological configuration of any sort can be called a “homosexual signature,” notwithstanding the repeated failed attempts by many straight astrologers to try and find one.
The second (and surely the most certain) reason the Pleiades will never regain its once and former association with homosexuality, is that the constellation of the Pleiades was highjacked in the second half of the 20th Century by the UFO and flying saucer buffs.
The UFO believers will tell you with the greatest of sincerity that all these flying saucers which they say humans have been seeing for more than 50 years come from the Pleiades. (Of course, in typical heterosexist fashion, they don’t tell us whether any of these cute little aliens with big eyes are queer or not.)
The cottage industry built up around the Pleiades and UFOs is formidable: Roswell, crop circles, black helicopters, Area 51, alien abductions, government conspiracies, books, websites, and international conferences, to name just a few. My goodness! A poor little swishy queen just doesn’t have a chance with that kind of competition.
Oh well, maybe someday UFO devotees will discover their beloved flying saucers and little green men come from somewhere else, and then we can reclaim the Pleiades as our own once again, but I’m not holding my breath on that one.
But there are other options. For instance, every spring, around May 19 to May 21, the Sun makes its annual transit through the Pleiades at 28° and 29° Taurus. When that happens please pause to consider that this is our time when the queer stars are making their yearly celebration of our lives, as they have every year for thousands of years now. Any excuse for a party, right?