The rose of winds and stars: This week on the Storyteller's Night Sky

Feb 27, 2018

The art of the compass rose

The forecast for high winds this week means that when March begins on Thursday, it may stay true to its reputation and come in like a lion, and go out like a lamb. But in case you think that reference is to the windy weather that marks the beginning of this month, I’m here to tell you that it’s actually a reference to the stars.


The lion in this old weather ditty refers to the constellation Leo, which is high up in the east right now. The other constellation is Aries, the Ram, in the west, and which in earlier times was also symbolized by the lamb that was used as sacrifice in the Spring festivals. The higher Leo gets, the lower Aries gets, until it disappears into the light of the Sun. In other words: In comes the lion; out goes the lamb.


So how do we get from the stars to the winds in this old adage? 


When you look at old navigation maps, you always see the symbol of the “compass rose”, usually an 8-pointed star that indicates the cardinal and ordinal directions. On a ship’s compass, these points were named for the wind that came from that direction. For instance, the wind gods of Ancient Greece were known as the Anemoi and they included Boreas, the often-times violent north wind, or Zephyrus the much milder west wind.


The sidereal compass rose, on the other hand, marked 32 compass points, based on certain stars as they rose into the night sky. This originated with the nomadic tribes of the Middle East, who travelled through the desert lands gleaning their direction from the stars. Together with two stars marking north and south, they marked 15 other stars at their rising and again at their setting, to arrive at 32 points around the horizon. This means that the “rose of winds” could also be referred to as the “rose of stars.”  The rose itself is the flower of Venus, goddess of love and beauty, whose care is that which lives in the human heart. To take direction from a compass rose, whether a rose of winds or a rose of stars, is to take direction from the heart.