The Celestial Sky

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Contributing Writer

Paul Leone

Consider the blackness of night illuminated by the billions of stars. Consider a black ocean beneath and an ancient wooden sailing ship upon, solitary, the sound of the wind and the waves echoing loud in the silence against the hull, the hoarse brusque voice of sailors driving like gods what to my imagination seems an impossible task: navigation by the stars. The gods look down upon the puny ship. The gods live immortal in the heavens. Look for them there in the dark of night.

I do delight in Greek mythology. I can find Orion in the sky. Ursa Major. Taurus the Bull. Don’t think me clever. The three constellations are related. Orion, son of Poseidon: the supernaturally gifted hunter bearing a shield and raised club against Taurus the Bull. He boasted how he was the greatest hunter in the world, infuriating Hera, Zeus’ goddess queen, easily infuriated as goddesses tend to be. Hera sent a scorpian (Scorpio) to kill Orion. Out of compassion Zeus removed Orion to the sky.

Taurus the Bull in one of several mythological iterations was Zeus himself transformed into a white bull for the purpose of carrying away the beautiful Phoenician princess Europa. The gods were nothing if not promiscuous, and the goddesses had every reason to be infuriated.

Polaris, the North Star, is easily discovered with the aid of the Big Dipper. Everyone can find the Big Dipper. The Big Dipper is a portion of the constellation Ursa Major. Ursa Major, the greater bear (there is an Ursa Minor), like Orion, was placed permanently in the sky by Zeus. Zeus, characteristically fickle, fell in love with the nymph Callisto. Hera, characteristically jealous, transformed Callisto into a bear. As a bear she was about to be killed by her son by Zeus, Arcas by name, not realizing the bear was his mother. Zeus put the two of them in the sky for safe keeping.

Of the intensely beautiful incomprehensible show of light in the night sky I am most enamoured of Grandmother Moon. Grandmother Moon is the primal earth mother, Ataensic, who, in Iroquois legend, fell pregnant from the Sky Kingdom onto Turtle’s back from which all the earth spread. She carried a broken branch from the sacred Sky Kingdom tree. And as she dropped onto Turtle’s back seeds from the tree fell upon the earth and out of the earth all that was good began to grow. The daughter she bore peopled the earth. And after Ataensic fell into eternal sleep, she ascended into the sky to watch over her people with maternal love.

I have seen Ataensic blush. I carry a vivid remembrance of a total lunar eclipse seen in the dark from a flat rooftop in the Puerto Rican village Boqueron. The roseate aura at the eclipse’s climax magnified Grandmother Moon’s beauty.