storyteller's guide to the night sky

If you live in Michigan, then most likely you’re aware that on Mackinac Island, the main transportation asset is the horse, and every year in June, during the island’s lilac festival, there’s a blessing of the horses that takes place. This blessing is rooted in the 3rd century Gallo-Roman feast of Epona, goddess protector of horses and fertility. What’s interesting to me is that in addition to her feast day in June, Epona also enjoys a festival every year in December, on the 18th.

Throughout 2017, the planet Venus has been the guardian goddess of the dawn. But now that we approach the darkest time of year, this goddess, also the goddess of love and beauty has disappeared from view. Does this mean we have to live without love for a spell? The news of the day can certainly make it seem that way. But there’s a deeper mystery written in the sky right now, and it’s here we should cast our imaginations.

Every once in awhile we arrive at a week of celestial superlatives, and this week that straddles the end of November and beginning of December is just such a one. Mercury has recently moved as far away from the Sun it can get, just as the star that marks the Bull’s Eye comes to opposition, and the Moon comes to Full Phase closer to the Earth than any other Full Moon of 2017. What can we make of such a configuration?

It’s Thanksgiving week in America, so it’s time to ask whether there is an obvious festival of gratitude expressed in the stars that are overhead in this season?

One of the most brilliant stars in the sky right now is Capella, in the constellation Auriga, the charioteer, which is visible in the northeast at about 8 pm each night. 

Ditties in the sky: This week on the Storyteller's Night Sky

Oct 30, 2017

The Milky Way can be seen arcing straight overhead in November, where we find the constellation Cassiopeia, the queen, nearly at the zenith.

“In folklore, angels tickle harps and the Devil plays the violin. So it is hardly surprising that extraordinary musical ability in mere mortals has long been explained by way of heavenly blessings or, more frequently, dark pacts…” So begins the tale of “The Dark Fiddler ~ The Life and Legend of Nicolo Paganini”.

I recently took my stories of the stars to Davenport, Iowa, and while I was there, I visited the Figge Museum downtown, where there was a fabulous exhibit of the art of Gary Kelley, for his book on the notorious 18th century Italian violinist Paganini.

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.

Last week there was a lot of chatter about the configuration of Sun, Moon and planets triggering biblical prophecy. So, what was that all about?

The set up was Sun and Moon in the constellation Virgo, with the three planets Venus, Mars and Mercury in Leo.

The constellation Cygnus wings back into the sky this month, trailing the better part of the Milky Way and a mighty quest in its wake.

Cygnus is variously known as the Swan, and the Northern Cross, on account of its shape. The outstretched wings of the swan appear like the t-bar on a cross as the stars rise up in the northeast on May evenings.

We typically associate ghosts and witches with Autumn and the season of the dead, but did you know that there are traditions for observing the same thing during the last week of April when life is springing up from the Earth?

The Lyrid Meteor Shower starts this week and comes to its peak overnight Saturday. What’s the best thing to know about it? It’s story, because if you find yourself under cloudy skies, you’ll still have something to marvel at!

Because the first New Moon of the season occurs Monday evening, March 27th, we get to watch its beautiful crescent adorn the western horizon most of this week.

Up until very recently, the planet Venus brilliantly dominated the western horizon, casting her veil of love and beauty over the sunset world. But Venus has disappeared into the arms Sun, who is escorting her to her morning star position, where she’ll remain there for the rest of this year. 

The Sun strides over the celestial equator Monday morning March 20, and all at once, it’s Spring! In the words of Johnny Mercer, at such a moment “Ma Nature’s lyrical, with her yearly miracle, Spring, Spring, Spring!”

When the Sun moves over the celestial equator we say it’s Equinox, a moment that inaugurates what Irish poet William Butler Yeats called “the most beautiful and living of the year.” 

When you’re a storyteller of the stars, you can’t help but look for them everywhere, not just in the sky, or in the myths and legends of the ancients, but in art and poetry, in architecture, in ceremony…

For this week’s “Storyteller’s Night Sky”, I’ve been looking for stars in one of my favorite places: the nursery rhymes of A.A. Milne, most famously known for his stories of Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh.

If you watch the Moon this week, dancing through the snow clouds, you’ll notice that it’s getting higher and higher in the nighttime sky, all the way until overnight Wednesday, when it mounts itself toward Full Phase Thursday morning and becomes the highest Full Moon of the year.

It’s a New Year, so it’s time to start a new trend I’ll call “Super Earth!”

So “Super Earth” is not really a fabrication, especially if you put it in the context of the “Super Moon” craze that’s been going on!  A Super Moon is technically known as Perigee Moon, or Moon closest to Earth, which happens every month.

It's Winter Solstice this week, at 5: 44 am Wednesday, December 21st, when the Sun reaches the point furthest below the celestial equator and there is a deep inner pause in the yearly breathing process.

The Sky is Falling: This Week on The Storyteller's Night Sky

Dec 12, 2016

Despite another “Super Moon” and the Geminid Meteor Shower this week, I’d like to talk about the constellation Ursa Major, and its better-known asterism the Big Dipper.

It’s December, which means it’s time for the annual discourse about whether or not there really was a Christmas Star, so here’s my “Storyteller’s Night Sky” perspective.  

With the New Moon on Tuesday, November 29th, and the inner planets serving as the Moon's footpath, this will be a spectacular week of early evening stargazing.

The Moon is new Tuesday at 7:18 am, which means it might be possible to see the thin crescent as early as Wednesday evening, about 40 minutes after sunset. The Moon will be just to the right of the planet Mercury, and both of them will be very close to the horizon, in the west.

What sign are you? This week on The Storyteller's Night Sky

Nov 21, 2016

We’re drawing toward the end of November, which means that now, the signs of the zodiac start to get all mixed up.

You've undoubtedly heard the November Full Moon referred to as the "super moon", because it is the closest Full Moon to Earth in nearly 70 years. But what does that mean?

The Moon's orbit around the Earth is not a circle, it's an ellipse, which means the Moon-Earth distance is always changing.

The technical name for the Moon closest to Earth is "perigee Moon". A perigee Moon can be 50,000 km closer than an apogee Moon, which is the Moon furthest away from us. 

There’s a convergence of things taking place this week on Friday, when 11.11 rolls around on the calendar, and did you know that there was a time when 11.11 marked a celebration of religious and military cooperation.

We’re at the bitter end of the campaign season, and it’s easy to feel like turning on the news is a bit like opening Pandora’s box~so I want to see if this is a valid analogy to make, given what’s happening in the sky right now.

In classical Greek Mythology, Pandora is the first woman to be created, and her name means: She who receives gifts from all the gods.

“In folklore, angels tickle harps and the Devil plays the violin. So it is hardly surprising that extraordinary musical ability in mere mortals has long been explained by way of heavenly blessings or, more frequently, dark pacts…” So begins the tale of “The Dark Fiddler ~ The Life and Legend of Nicolo Paganini”.

I recently took my stories of the stars to Davenport, Iowa, and while I was there, I visited the Figge Museum downtown, where there was a fabulous exhibit of the art of Gary Kelley, for his book on the notorious 18th century Italian violinist Paganini.

Pages