Sea to Sky
“Follow the stars, for they hold the secrets of the universe.”
Sea to Sky
for Darling Magazine
Where did this idea come from, that somewhere in the darkness of the night, embedded into the stars, is a map that might guide us in the right direction in the chaos that is life? Somehow, traced through legends of old and epic tales, our destiny has seemed tied to something as far off and out of reach as the stars. I can remember the first time I read a horoscope on my sign. It was in fourth grade and my classmates were all chatting about their signs, found in the back of our new notebook. I was a “Leo.” Leos were supposed to be warm, loyal and proud. It seemed valid enough in my mind and I embraced it without much questioning, similar to the way I embraced my Meyers Briggs Type Indicator results. After some years, however, I’ve wondered: what role do the stars really have in our day-to-day lives?
Throughout history, the stars have served as a source of direction, both literally and figuratively. For thousands of years, people have looked up to the sky to illuminate their path. Wayfaring sailors and fishermen trusted their lives to the stars as they glided through dark and uncharted waters, letting Polaris guide them. Romantic as it sounds in books and songs to follow your “guiding light,” your “North Star,” doing so was a matter of life and death to people of all different trades. As the “fixed point” in the night sky, there’s no doubt that Polaris led many travelers and sailors from the Northern Hemisphere safely on the right path as it beckoned them. Farmers knew when to sow seed and when to reap as the constellations shifted with the changing seasons. The stars were not just beautiful, but sacred, a breath of divinity.
Between ancient Babylonian and Greek cultures, images were created from what seemed to be randomly placed stars. Stories were drawn out of the chaos, passed down and reshaped over years and cultures. Names were given to the constellations from ancient Greek mythological characters, and from there, the stars held not just stories of battles between human and divinity, but were a representation of the lifeline connecting each of us with our own personal narratives of conflict and passion. These cultures were not the only ones to dream up stories and put them into the skies. The chinese created their own constellations and lunar calendar following the moon’s path across the 28 mansions, one for each day in the lunar month, through the months. The Inca believed that each star stood as a protector for a specific animal. They even created constellations out of the dark patches in the Milky Way, becoming one of the few cultures to have constellations of light as well as darkness.
One of the beautiful things about the night sky is that it is both ever changing and consistent. The night sky you see at 8 p.m. will look a little different from that same sky at 10 p.m., even if you stand at the exact same spot. Not only that, but you get a different piece of sky, along with its own constellations, from your Australian friends. All 88 constellations cannot be seen from any one point in the world because of the way the earth rotates on its axis around the stars, perhaps as a way to nudge us into the pursuit of the unknown, to see seas and skies beyond our horizon. Picture a spinning globe. The bottom half will never be exposed to what the top half is exposed to because of the axis the globe rotates on. It is the same with Earth’s northern and southern hemispheres. As the earth rotates, we see the stars shifting. In reality, the stars do not move, we do.
Consider how natural it is for us to be looking up to the stars to find a sense of direction, it’s not surprise that there is a whole field dedicated to finding a correlation between the stars and our lives: astrology. Although it seems that using one’s zodiac sign to justify certain behaviors or to figure out compatibility with that cute guy from Instagram is a modern trend, the tradition of organized astrology developed over hundreds of years from the Babylonians and was passed down to Greeks in the 4th century B.C. There is a band of sky through which the sun, moon and planets orbit; this is called the zodiac. The word “zodiac” comes from the Greek and means “circle of little animals” in reference to the animals in the constellations that make up the 12 signs. Astrologers have long believed that the element one is born into can predict part of one’s personality, similar to the concept of how birth order seems to predict personality trends among children. Although the constellations were drawn up before stories were tied to them, the stories of these 12 signs, like many other constellations, are rooted in Greek mythology.
The handsome Ganymede was kidnapped by an eagle sent by Zeus to become the “water bearer” for the gods.
Two fish tied by their tails, sent to help Aphrodite and Eros escape Typhon, father of all monsters.
A ram from which -once sacrificed-the “golden fleece” came from.
Zeus disguised as a bull in order to romance away Europa.
The immortal Kastor and demigod Polydeuces, warrior twins placed in the sky when Kastor begged his father Zeus to give half his immortality to his dying brother.
A crab that Hero that goddess sent to kill Hercules.
The lion Hercules killed.
Astraea, Goddess of Justice, who was the last to leave the earth after the famed Golden Age.
The scales of justice, close to Virgo’s hand, representative of balance and temperance.
The scorpion sent by Apollo to kill Orion- who was also turned into a constellation - as punishment for killing too many for sport.
The half human, half horse archer.
A half goat, half fish Greek god named Pan.
Next time you stand out under the stars, try to spot a few constellations. A few of those in the northern hemisphere that can be spotted on a clear night are Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Draco, Cassiopeia, Cepheus and Camelopardalis. These constellations are easier to spot because they are circumpolar, never rising or setting. Of all the constellations in the northern hemisphere, one of the easiest to spot is Orion’s Belt, the great Greek hunter. His belt is made up of three stars lined up in a straight row, easy to pick out in a sky full of stars. They are the Three Kings or the Three Sisters. From there, you can orient yourself and unravel the rest of the mysteries of the sky’s constellations. Polaris, the North Star, is the most significant star when it comes to direction, because it is easy to spot as the brightest star in Ursa Minor (also known as the Little Bear). Its prime location, nearly aligning with the north celestial pole, allows it to stand almost motionless in the sky as the rest of the constellations seem to shift around it.
There may be an ongoing debate on astrology and its validity, but it is undisputed that it is rich in history and its reaches have spread across time and space. Civilizations all across the world have used astrology as a means of feeling more in control of their lives. Regardless of the differences in opinion on vague predictions and broad generalization, the stars will always hold the stories of thousands of years, a sign of hope and a path blazed by those from thousands of years before us. In situations of dark confusion, few have looked up to the stars and not found solace or a wave of calm.