(This was one of the Nature Practices from my e-course Gaian Soul Practices for Midsummer. I’ll be presenting Part 2 for the Lammas e-course. It’s written for those who live in the northern hemisphere.)
When it’s too darned hot during the day to get terribly excited about any kind of nature practice, it’s time to turn our attention to the night skies.
I love being able to recognize different constellations, stars and planets during warm summer nights. Most of us know the names that originated with Greek mythology. I love discovering what other cultures saw in the night sky, and I love creating my own associations too.
The Milky Way
It can be seen all year round, but we have the brightest view of the Milky Way in summer. It rises in the north and runs high across the sky, across to the southern horizon. If you’ve ever seen it away from city lights on a clear night, it’s easy to understand how many of our ancestors saw it as a river or pathway in the sky.
To the ancient Egyptians, it was the celestial version of the river Nile, extended by Isis into the Otherworld. More than one Native American tribe saw it as a pathway for the souls of the dead. In Nordic culture, it was called “Odin’s Way” and was seen as the celestial bridge between heaven and earth. The Valkyries carried the souls of warriors slain on the battlefield across this bridge to feast in Valhalla.
In Finland, it is called Linnunrata, the “Pathway of the Birds.”
There is a Navajo story about the trickster Coyote snatching a bag of crystals away from the Black God (perhaps the God of Night), and scattering them all over the night sky, forming a glowing path behind him.
In China, a story is told of two star-crossed lovers, the Cowherd (the star we know as Altair) and the Weaver Maid (the star Vega). They are separated for eternity on either side of the Celestial River, except for the seventh night of the seventh moon. On that night each year (which usually falls in August), they are reunited when 10,000 magpies create a bridge over the river. (It’s unclear to me as to whether the Milky Way is the river or the bridge; different sources say different things.) There is a festival in China that celebrates their annual reunion. It is called Double-Seventh Day, and is known as the Chinese Valentine’s Day.
We call it the Milky Way, not for the candy bar! — but for the milk that poured from the breasts of the Egyptian cow goddess Hathor, and later the Greek Goddess Hera.
As much as I like the idea that the Milky Way is the nurturing milk of the Great Mother, I like the idea of a pathway or river even more. When I see it in the night sky, I think of Frodo’s song from the Lord of the Rings, not long before he makes his final journey:
Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate,
And though I oft have passed them by,
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun.
Tomorrow, we’ll look at the stories found in the Summer Triangle.
What stories do you see in the night sky?
P.S. In my Gaian Soul Seasonal Practices e-courses, this Nature Practice (as well as all the practices and projects) is presented in video and audio, as well as in written form like this. The Lammas: Summer-Turning-to-Fall course is open for registration now, and starts on July 22nd. If it tweaks your interest, please check it out! We’ll look at the night sky again in the Lammas course — just in time for the Perseid meteor showers, also knows as the Games of Lugh!