The Stories in Our Stars: Spring Edition
Up North's night sky now
By Mary Stewart Adams | April 24, 2021
How fitting it is — when the blossoms are bending toward the sun, the bees are rushing toward the blossoms, and everything is humming along to the greater mystery of warmth and light — — that the first meteor shower of the spring should emanate from the region of the constellation Lyra, the musical instrument of the ancient sun god Apollo, and his mother, Leto.
The Lyrid Meteor Shower started April 16, and while it peaked overnight Wednesday, April 21, when the Moon was a waxing gibbous, misshapen and sloping westward well beyond the midnight hour — you can catch sight of it until April 30.
The trick to catching a meteor shower is to look for it when the constellation that bears its name is highest. In this case, the constellation is Lyra, which boasts the unmistakably bright blue-white star Vega. Vega rises in the northeast around 9 pm, blazing a trail through the night from northeast to southwest, sprinkling falling stars across the sky. It is the lead star in the summer triangle, which heralds the season of warmth for us in the North. The Lyrids are known to produce fireballs, despite not leaving persistent trails of stardust.
The lyre that lends its name to the constellation Lyra belonged to the ancient Greek goddess Leto, who played music to the gods of Olympus. She was consort to Zeus before Hera, and she bore the twins Apollo and Artemis, sun and moon. The myth of Leto relates how her childbirth was delayed until Iris, goddess of the rainbow, was gifted a necklace woven through with the golden threads of destiny, for use in persuading Ilithyia, goddess of childbirth, to make haste.
It’s easy to imagine such a tale in the northern spring, when warmth and blossom seem delayed by stubborn cold.
Just after the Lyrid meteors finish falling through the sky, we arrive at spring’s cross-quarter, the halfway point in the season known popularly as May Day, on May 1. In each season we come to these cross-quarter points, which were celebrated much more vigorously in former times, in order to ensure health and fertility for land, animals, and the community.
Traditionally, the winter cross-quarter — our Groundhog Day — celebrated the inner light, whereas the opposite cross-quarter, Aug. 1, was about outer light and the first wheat harvest. During the spring cross-quarter, May Day, ceremonies were designed to celebrate fertility and new life.
The opposite cross-quarter, Nov. 1, honored life at its fulfillment, as well as those who had died. And just as the sacredness of the November cross-quarter was anticipated by the mischief on its eve, known as All Hallow’d Eve, or Halloween, May Day enjoys something similar. The eve of May Day, April 30, is known in certain regions of Europe as Walpurgis Night, when witches are free to roam the Harz Mountains and cavort with the devil.
Despite this mischief and mayhem, when community life is predicated on ceremony that is rooted in cosmic rhythms, a certain harmony prevails, one that reaches beyond religion, race, or creed. The idea is that under the stars, we are all one humanity.
In the merry month of May, the planet Venus emerges as our evening star. Though Venus will stay close to the horizon throughout the month, it’s really special to have the goddess of love and beauty grace the western edge of the world at the close of each day.
On June 10, there’s an annular eclipse of the sun. This type of eclipse is also called a “ring of fire” eclipse, because the moon is too far from the earth to appear to block the entire solar disc, and instead appears to stand fully embraced by the sun’s corona. This eclipse will already be underway by the time the sun rises in northern Michigan, around 5:51 am, and though it will appear only as a partial eclipse for us, it’s worth getting up for because it’s the only eclipse of the 21st Century that will cast its shadow over the North Pole, at the very top of the world.
Want to learn more about the sky and its stories? Check out www.StorytellersNightSky.com — the website of Star Lore Historian Mary Stewart Adams — to stay abreast of upcoming star-gazing events and audio recordings of her radio segment, or sign up for The Storyteller’s Night Sky newsletter, which delivers celestial updates to your email box.
BONUS: Bring the Stars Home for Kids
Want to excite your child’s imagination in the night sky? The North’s own star lore historian, Mary Stewart Adams, has teamed up with her illustrious illustrator sister, Patricia DeLisa, to create “The Star Tales of Mother Goose: For Those Who Seek the Secret Language of the Stars.”
Using DeLisa’s original artwork, traditional Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes, and a few whimsical takes of Adams’ own, the book introduces kids to basic astronomical concepts and the history of each rhyme, as well as the history of Mother Goose herself. (Didja know the title Mother Goose first appeared in 17th Century France but originates much earlier in legends of the goose-footed Queen Bertrada of Laon? Us either.)
Complete with easy-to-use sky maps, a key for finding the stars, and fun connections between Mother Goose rhymes and the stars above, the book is suitable for children and fun for adults. Find it at www.starlore.co (no “m”) or Between the Covers in Harbor Springs beginning May 11.
***Photo at top courtesy of Usukhbayar Gankhuyag, Unsplash