In the autumn and winter, just after a full moon, when the light from the sun bouncing off our orbiting celestial rock is starting to wane, and there is just a smattering of clouds, you may be lucky enough to look up and be treated to an array of constellations, all telling their own stories. Orion, Casseopia, Ursa Major & Ursa Minor, Draco and Orpheus all hide their stories in the stars; arogant hunters, wronged mothers, defeated dragons and happless musicians respectively.
These are some the stories many of us are most familiar with in the UK, the stories that were recorded in Greek culture, what they saw when they looked up to the stars, but cultures across the world have long told stories of the stars. Orion, for the indigenous peopls of America, was not a hubristic hunter but a wronged lover who lost his leg and in Chinese mythology the milky way is a flock of magpies reminding us of two lovers forced to live apart in the sky.
Even if you are not a star gazer, you are most likely familiar with the zodiac, a band of animals marching across the sky fortelling our desitny, which in themselves hold stories. This bevy of animals, mythical beasts and humans have been considered portents of our future for thousands of years and there is evidence that, as well as the Greek Zodiac and the Chinese Zodiac, that we are most familiar with today, the Mayan cultures also held a zodiac which helped them to make decisions in daily life.
If constellations aren’t your thing and the Zodiac makes no sense whatsoever to you, then shooting stars and meteorites have surely got to hold some place in your heart. In folk customs, when sailors observed shooting stars they believed they would be able to predict the direction of the wind depending on the direction in which the star was travelling in. In general though, shooting stars were not viewed with an oo or an ahh, instead they were seen as signifying death and disaster and a comet that was seen and recorded in the year 1066 was thought to be the reason for the Great Plague.
This month comet C/2022 E3 ZTF, which has become known as the 'green comet' is visible in our night skies. Who knows what this is a portend of but there is more on how to see this comet on the Sky At Night website here.
If you are going to attempt a spot of star gazing, then being somewhere where light pollution is at a mimnimum is almost essential and yet an extremely rare commodity in the UK today. The South Downs, where I am lucky enough to call my home, enjoys gloriously dark skies, which is not only beneficial for nocturnal wildlife but also allows communities access to fabulous star filled canopies, night walks and astrophotography. This is in the main because the South Downs National Park is proud to be one of twenty International Dark Skies Reserves and to celebrate this, each February, they hold a Dark Skies Festival.
This year I am very proud to be a part of this festival and I will be telling some of the stories of our Dark Skies & Storied Stars. The festival runs from 4th - 17th of February. For families I will be sharing stories of owls, dung beetles and dragons and for my event at Butser Ancient Farm on 17th I will be entertaining you in the great roundhouse with Greek Myths, English folktales and a Chinese legend.
I hope you will be able to join me for one of these events and links to the programme and booking are all listed further down in the newsletter for you.
Cerridwen’s Cauldron is a community and I would love you to be a part of that community and share your thoughts on this post. Join the conversation in the comments below.
February's Events :
February 4th-17th - Dark Skies Festival - Storytelling on behalf of South Downs National Park - More Information here
February 17th - Dark Skies & Storied Stars - Stories of Greek Gods and Buried Moons in the great roundhouse of Butser Ancient Farm - SOLD OUT
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February's Recommended Read:
Most of us, in the western world, are familiar with the Greek myths associated with our night sky, but there are many more stories in the stars and ways to interpret the constellations. Anthony Aveni has collated many of them from across the world’s cultures in this fabulous book that explores our storied stars. I’ll be reveiwing this is in full later in the month.