Asteroid Files: Sphinx

Helios on Sphinx– What has four legs, two wings, the body of a lion, the head of a woman and defies all attempts to figure it out? This weeks asteroid!

The Astronomy– 896 Sphinx is a main-belt asteroid discovered 1 August 1918 at Heidelberg, Germany. It has an orbital period of 3.45 years and an eccentricity of 0.16

The Myth– In Greek tradition, a sphinx has the head of a human, the haunches of a lion, and sometimes the wings of a bird. It is mythicised as treacherous and merciless. Those who cannot answer its riddle suffer a fate typical in such mythological stories, as they are killed and eaten by this ravenous monster. This deadly version of a sphinx appears in the myth and drama of Oedipus. Unlike the Greek sphinx, which was a woman, the Egyptian sphinx is typically shown as a man. In addition, the Egyptian sphinx was viewed as benevolent, but having a ferocious strength similar to the malevolent Greek version and both were thought of as guardians often flanking the entrances to temples.

The largest and most famous sphinx is the Great Sphinx of Giza, situated adjacent to the Great Pyramids of Giza in Egypt. There was a single sphinx in Greek mythology, a unique demon of destruction and bad luck. According to Hesiod, she was a daughter of Orthrus and either Echidna or the Chimera, or perhaps even Ceto; according to others, she was a daughter of Echidna and Typhon. All of these are chthonic figures from the earliest of Greek myths, before the Olympians ruled the Greek pantheon. The Sphinx is called Phix by Hesiod.

The Sphinx is said to have guarded the entrance to the Greek city of Thebes, asking a riddle to travelers to allow them passage. It was said in late lore that Hera or Ares sent the Sphinx from her Ethiopian homeland (the Greeks always remembered the foreign origin of the Sphinx) to Thebes in Greece where she asked all passersby the most famous riddle in history: “Which creature has one voice and yet becomes four-footed and two-footed and three-footed?” She strangled and devoured anyone who could not answer. Oedipus solved the riddle by answering: “Man—who crawls on all fours as a baby, then walks on two feet as an adult, and then uses a walking stick in old age”. By some accounts (but much more rarely), there was a second riddle: “There are two sisters: one gives birth to the other and she, in turn, gives birth to the first. Who are the two sisters?” The answer is “day and night” (both words—ἡμέρα and νύξ, respectively—are feminine in Ancient Greek). This second riddle is also found in a Gascon version of the myth and could be very ancient.

Bested at last, the Sphinx then threw herself from her high rock and died. An alternative version tells that she devoured herself. In both cases, Oedipus can, therefore, be recognized as a “liminal” or threshold figure, helping effect the transition between the old religious practices, represented by the death of the Sphinx, and the rise of the new, Olympian gods.

The sphinx image also has been adopted into Masonic architecture. Among the Egyptians, sphinxes were placed at the entrance of the temples to guard their mysteries, by warning those who penetrated within that they should conceal a knowledge of them from the uninitiated. Champollion said that the sphinx became successively the symbol of each of the gods. The placement of the sphinxes expressed the idea that all the gods were hidden from the people, and that the knowledge of them, guarded in the sanctuaries, was revealed to initiates only. As a Masonic emblem, the sphinx has been adopted in its Egyptian character as a symbol of mystery, and as such often is found as a decoration sculptured in front of Masonic temples, or engraved at the head of Masonic documents. It cannot, however, be properly called an ancient, recognized symbol of the order. Its introduction has been of comparatively recent date, and rather as a symbolic decoration than as a symbol of any particular dogma.

Why She(?) Matters– The great thing about the Sphinx is that everyone has a unique take on it- It means so many things to so many people, and there is no one answer to the riddle its mere presence imposes. I love the Oedipal interpretation of it being representative of the old gods, the pre-Olympian influences (which includes the Titans). This can also play into the stories of Cecrops and Ophion.

In the chart, 896 Sphinx leans heavily into the Oedipal story, where it is a part of the chart that is a mystery, something that you never truly figure out- kind of like Chiron. This is one of those asteroids that constantly challenges you, and in transit, it can represent a sort of change in your life that you WANT to make, but you are unsure of how to, it defies and befuddles you. Others may be able to help, however- with their outside perspective making it look easy and making you feel dumb, but it’s important to remember that this goes both ways. We all have things that we can’t figure out that are easy for others, and vice versa. So in this way, Sphinx can help us feel more confident in ourselves and our abilities, the more we put ourselves out there and try to help others.

To find out where she shows up in your chart, go to astro.com, put in your birth details and in the extended options, at the top of the next page, there will be a menu of additional objects. To the right of that is a blank space where you can enter the number 896, for Sphinx. Once you have it entered, generate the chart! Where does Sphinx affect your life? Let us know in the comments below- and in this case, we really want to know, because this one seems to defy any attempt to synthesize a meaning from it!

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