Rainbows, butterflies, and unicorns: This week on the Storyteller's Night Sky

Oct 9, 2017

The constellation Monoceros, below and between Gemini and Orion, with the little dog, Canis Minor, at its back, from "Urania's Mirror", a set of star charts from 1825.

The monarch butterfly migration has been terrific this year, so I’ve been researching stories and constellations to see if I could find some way to tie the migration into “The Storyteller’s Night Sky”, but try as I might, there’s nothing specific.

But here’s what I did come up with: In many traditions, butterflies are considered creatures that can access other worlds. The ancient greek philosopher Aristotle called the butterfly “Psyche”, a word that means “soul”; and the people native to the American Southwest believed that if you could catch a butterfly without harming it, and then whisper your secrets to it and let it go, the butterfly would take your secret to the Great Spirit. Because butterflies can’t speak, the only one who would know your prayers, then, would be the Great Spirit. A wish given to a butterfly is always granted, in exchange for setting the butterfly free.

There’s another creature that shares this magical quality of access to other worlds that is often depicted together with butterflies, and that is the unicorn. The unicorn does have a constellation and it begins to rise up into the night in this season, in the southeast around midnight. Now I know it’s a stretch, but what harm in imagining that butterflies migrate when their friend, the unicorn rises up into the sky?

The unicorn, or Monoceros, is not a very bright constellation, and it’s relatively modern, formed only in 1612. Here’s how you can find it: On Wednesday, October 11th, the last-quarter Moon will rise around midnight. Once it’s high enough you'll see that it’s in Gemini, with Castor and Pollux shining to its left. Farther to its right you'll see Orion, and below and between Gemini and Orion gallops Monoceros, the Unicorn, with the “little dog” Canis Minor, barking at its back.

Maybe you’ve heard the acronym for “rainbows, butterflies and unicorns” or “RBUs” that the urban dictionary defines as an expression used to describe an especially happy state of being about something wonderful. That’s something we could all use, in any season!