Most of us are taught some of the bright stars and constellations during our years in school. Most everyone can point out the Big Dipper. The names of Orion, Scorpius, Taurus, and Pegasus are familiar. The constellations are "pictures" of people, animals and objects that were familiar to our ancestors.
What you may not know, is that these names, and the stories connected with them, have been handed down from the Greeks and Romans. In many cases, the stories are ancient, the stories have become the popular myths that have been handed down over the ages.
What you may not think about is that other cultures have seen very different "pictures" in the night sky. It seems all cultures have been star gazers and each culture has rich and wonderful stories about their own constellations.
The Big Dipper we are so familiar with, was the Plow in England, the Drinking Gourd in parts of Africa, and the Great Bear to many Native Americans.
There is a constellation called the Northern Crown that is in the night skies now. It is a small, nearly complete, circlet of stars high in the southern sky around 9:00 P.M. It is also seen by the Aborigines of Australia, and they see something very different. The Aborigines see this group of stars as a boomerang. And not just any boomerang, but a Magical Boomerang. As their story goes, a group of young boys were having a contest to see who could make the best boomerang. The best Boomerang, they said, would fly the farthest, and then return to the thrower.
The boys were bragging of their talents when an old man walked by. The old man asked the boys to let him try to win this contest. The boys laughed at the old man, saying he was too old, and could not possible beat them. Nevertheless, they told the old man he could try. What the boys did not know, was that the old man knew magic, and he carved his boomerang out of a piece of magic wood. His boomerang flew so far that it went into the sky.
The old man became the hero; the faithful boomerang still returns to the night sky every year.
The constellations and the stories behind them are fun to learn. And it is also a fun idea to make up your own star pictures and stories in the night sky. Go out on a warm starry night and look to the stars. Pick a group of stars and imagine what they might be a picture of if they were connected. There is no end to the possibilities, only your imagination.
"In the Eye of the Beholder" was published in the Daily Local News 9/3/95.
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