With his famous belt of three stars, the constellation Orion is arguably one of the most well-known constellations around the world. And every year in March, he appears to fall toward the western horizon. But before he goes, there’s one more tale to tell!
When you find Orion in the southwest region of the sky, you’ll see that he is flanked to the right by the constellation Taurus the bull, where we also find the star cluster of the Pleiades; and to the left, by the star Sirius, the brightest star in our sky.
This is the set up for one of the best known fairy tales in the English-speaking world, known to us as Jack and the Beanstalk.
You’ll recall that Jack and his mother are poor indeed, and that Jack is sent to market to sell their old milking cow so that they buy food. On the way to market, Jack meets a clever old man, with whom he trades the cow for a handful of magic beans.
When Jack’s mother learns about this, she scolds him pretty severely and tosses the beans out the window, and they go to bed hungry. But in the morning, Jack discovers that overnight the beans have grown into a mighty beanstalk, and he climbs it to a magnificent sky-land beyond the clouds.
It’s here that Jack encounters the giant with the three gifts that he eventually steals, which are: The hen that lays the golden eggs; the three bags of gold; and the singing harp.
Now only after Jack has proven himself to be clever enough and courageous enough to triumph over the giant does the tale reveal that it was actually Jack’s fairy godmother who was testing him, to see if he was the right kind of boy to truly inherit his father’s gifts, which the giant had stolen from him many years earlier.
This tale is a great one to tell under March evening skies, where we can imagine the constellation Taurus as Jack’s milking cow and the Pleiades star cluster as the handful of beans that he trades for.
Orion is the surly giant Jack is bound to encounter and overcome, with his famous belt of three stars that are actually the three treasures Jack steals, while Sirius, our brightest star, is the fairy godmother who oversees it all and ensures a happily ever after!