Ways to follow the stars and constellations more closely in your daily life
As a child, I knew the stars existed – yet they were almost invisible to me until I wore glasses for the first time. Once I got my first pair of specs, I lost out on the muzzy blurred beauty of motorway lights at night – but I gained in finally being able to witness the constellations in awe-inspiring clarity. It was an exchange I could live with.
Prior to glasses, the only star I ever stood a chance of seeing was Sirius the Dog Star. Such beauty! The brightest star in the sky! Sirius shone with such a purposeful gleam (its name means ‘glowing’ in Greek) and I could view it in spite of the blurry myopic film that always seemed to exist between me and the world.
The Dog Star became a deep personal symbol for me over time. I’m not alone in my love for this distant jewel – it’s inspired countless myths, legends, folklore tales and conspiracy theories. Sirius has been studied by numerous ancient cultures which have used their insight, logic and imagination to explore the deep sky before telescopes ever existed.
The stars call me to this day, just as they call to all of us. They are so intense, yet so distant. When their light reaches us it is almost impossible to think their light is already a memory, aeons old. To look up at night is to witness vast and unknown possibilities. To me, the day represents the mundane part of nature (and base mundane reality most surely is an exquisite part of us). The night, however, belongs to the ethereal. The night belongs to lovers, and it belongs to the hidden, the obscure, the knowledge that must be actively sought to be found.
Since time immemorial we have shaped the stars into stories that define our lives.
Our ancestors looked up to the same stars we see today.
Without even knowing of the existence of galaxies, the earliest links in our personal chains of humanity have gazed up at the stars and grouped their twinkles into patterns, clothing them as beings who guide our lives from above. Myths and epics have it that if the gods notice us sufficiently, we can be remade as stars. Yes. Like Andromeda, who was set in the heavens along with the rest of her family as constellations as punishment for being favourably compared to the Nereids, nymph-daughters of the sea god Nereus. Being noticed by the gods does not always end well, certainly. Yet… who could regret becoming a star in the sky?
Cultures the world over have dreamed up celestial calendars, using the movement of the stars to better understand the seasons, or to widen their worldly boundaries by flinging themselves into boats and using those tiny pinpricks of light to navigate the wild seas.
The stars are my guide, my solace. In times of difficulty, it is to the stars I lift my head as I silently recite this old Breton fisherfolk prayer:
“Oh God, thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.”
Yes. My boat is small, and the sea is great. But the stars are always there to guide me. When all seems dark I will bathe in their light. I will feel renewed.
Astrology and the stars
So many of us have at least a passing fancy for the Zodiac and astrological signs. Some of us live our lives by it. As the stars wheel over our heads and a pageant of planets and constellations plays itself out on a cosmic scale, we have locked the stars into a daily framework. We check our horoscope every day, every month, every year. We all know the stories and traits of the Zodiac signs. At least a passing familiarity with them transcends all backgrounds. Ask anyone in the street what their star sign is, and they will know its name and meaning. Isn’t it somewhat incredible – yet perhaps rarely considered – that something so esoteric as the study of the Zodiac should be so commonplace? Every person in the street is touched by star magic. And what are star signs, after all, but constellations in the sky?
To think about the stars every day is beautiful. It is. When you next shudder at the thought of Mercury going retrograde and all the communication fitzing out on you, remember that this is actually happening in the sky above. Mercury cannot physically go back on itself, of course! It has an orbit it must adhere to, every day for the rest of its existence! But it does appear to be going backwards – or retrograde, as Ptolemy had it – because of the relative positions of the planet and Earth and how they are moving round the Sun.
Sparing a thought for the actual stars in the sky may ease you when it comes to typically unwelcome events in astrology. In astronomical terms, Mercury appears to be going backwards, but that is due to our perception. Mercury always knows its true course. When Mercury retrograde hits your life and all hell breaks loose (because let’s face it, it nearly always does), give yourself a a moment to step back and consider your perception of the matter at hand. Is life and communication really going backwards? Or is it an appropriate time to tweak your perception of what is required?
There are several simple ways to take astrology out of the imagination and back into the stars.
On your birthday, look up in the sky and find the constellation if it is visible in your hemisphere.
On the notable movement of a planet or sign that you feel personally drawn to, look up. Drink in the light of the stars. Be at one with them and the night sky.
The sea is very big, and your boat is very small. But you do have a boat, dear heart, and the stars you were born with will always be there with you.
You’ve got this.
Bringing star magic into daily life with astronomy and the naked eye
You don’t need a degree in astrophysics to attend to the stars above with the same care that you might attend to their movements in astrology.
Firstly, it is enough to simply look up and know that they are there.
Secondly, you can get to know some of the celestial bodies a little better without ever doing an astronomy course.
As I live in the northern hemisphere, I must confess I’m a little northern in my stargazing:
- Stars twinkle as they emanate light.
- Planets reflect a static light, but are usually brighter, and because they’re closer to the earth they can look more like a disc than a tiny dot.
- Depending on your hemisphere, you can keep an eye out for the man in the moon or the rabbit in the moon.
- Sirius the Dog Star is the brightest star in the sky, and it is usually easy to find. It is white or blue-white in colour. Find Orion’s belt (three stars ever so close to each other in a straight line). Draw a line in your mind down through the stars in the belt, and carry on the line… you should find Sirius somewhere on it.
- Mars looks truly reddish compared to other heavenly bodies in the sky.
- Saturn (hello, Capricorn here!) is white-yellow in colour.
- Venus is usually close to the sun. It’s a rare planet in that it does twinkle. It’s given the name Venus Morningstar or Venus Eveningstar (yes, even though it’s not a star) because it’s easiest to see just after the sun goes down, or just before the sun comes up.
- Jupiter glows white and is the second-brightest object in the sky after Sirius.
We may not be as in tune with the stars in the sky as our ancestors were. We have light pollution from towns and cities. We have endless distractions that encourage us to look down, not up. We no longer need to look to the stars to navigate, or to study weather and seasons – we have an entire world of knowledge in our phone.
In spite of this, our love for the night sky remains. And we still follow the old ways, though we may change our approach. A lunar eclipse? No, we will not conduct blood sacrifices, but we will see it as a time of import. A shooting star? Sweet dearlings, one must always make a wish. A full moon? I talked to a police officer once (during an incident, long story) who firmly believed that the number and magnitude of incidents rose substantially during a full moon. Fact-based insider knowledge, or one person’s imaginative perspective? Either way, everyone you meet in the street will most likely have an opinion on how a full moon can affect our daily lives.
My loves. I’m not saying anything you don’t already know. But isn’t it still worth saying? And all these words essentially boil down to: ease your heart. Nourish your soul. Feel the impossible, and know it to be possible. Look up.
Darlings, friends, lovers and strangers. A final thought. Please download SkyView.
SkyView is a free app on your phone. If you don’t already have it, it will open up the world of constellations to you like never before.
Simply open the app and sweep it slowly over the night sky. It will pick out what celestial bodies your phone is pointing at, and reveal them in all their glory. The stars, the planets, the satellites, even – they’re all there.
You can swipe your phone over a bright light you’re fairly sure is either Sirius or Venus to find out what you’re truly looking at. You can discover which stars are in the sky above you regardless of clouds and light pollution. Perhaps best of all, it draws in the outlines of the constellations for you. Suddenly, it all makes so much more sense. And you can begin to pick out the shapes in the night sky of the constellations you adore in a way you might not have been able to before.
We are all connected to the stars, and they to us.
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