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Under The Martinborough Stars

April 12, 2021 April 2021 No Comments

As humans, we are very good at seeing patterns in everything; from clouds that look like dinosaurs, to seeing religious figures in a piece of burnt toast. Our ancient ancestors, from all corners of the globe would do the same with stars.

These patterns were remembered and the oral traditions of connecting these stars and these patterns began through telling stories and legends many thousands of years ago. Our sky is riddled with legends from all cultures, linking what they would see in the sky at a particular time to something that was happening in their environment. 

When you saw the three stars, Tautoru/ Orions Belt/ The Pot, rise in the early Summer in the Eastern evening, you knew it was a good time to catch birds to save for the Winter months ahead as they would be slow and fat after feasting on spring berries.

As we descend closer to Autumn, the sky begins to change. A gradual transition from the dominance of Orion, our constant summer companion, moving instead to Scorpius, our Winter guide. Orion starts sinking towards the west and a new set of creatures, mythical and imaginary begin to fill the space left behind.

One such constellation is Leo the Lion, a mighty beast with an easy to spot shape. It looks like a coathanger upside down, a sickle or backwards question mark. The curve of the head is under the body. In the Southern Hemisphere see it standing on its head, in the Northern Hemisphere it would be sitting up proudly, sphinx like. Incredibly, these bright stars have all been depicted as a lion in many different and widespread ancient cultures throughout history.

Leo is one of our signs of the Zodiac, a collection of 12 constellations that follow the path of the Sun and can be seen in across the world. Leo was one of the original 48 constellations devised by the 2 nd century astronomer Ptolemy. 

You can see Leo in the evening sky from now, he is sitting roughly North, near the horizon, following a short distance behind Orion and his two faithful hunting dogs. We see Leo picking up the scraps of meat that Orion leaves behind on his hunting trips.

For us here in Aotearoa New Zealand, seeing Leo rise tells us that Summer is on the way out, the nights are closing in and the days getting slowly shorter. When Virgo, The Maiden, rises and we see the bright white star Spica rises out from the East we know that Autumn has arrived so crops will soon need to be harvested ready for the Winter ahead.

So, go outside and see some of these ancient stories for yourselves, all you need to do is look up and use some imagination.

Becky Bateman 

Becky Bateman runs the award winning nomadic stargazing business Under The Stars

Photo caption: Leo as depicted by Johannes Hevelius in his Firmamentum Sobiescianum sive Uranographia (1687). Source image provided by www.RareMaps.com — Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps Inc.

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