This week on Looking Up guest host Bruce Bookout regales us with various mythologies surrounding the queen of the night sky, Cassiopeia.
Rising high in the autumn skies of Southern Colorado is the reigning queen of the sky - Cassiopeia. Take a look after sunset to the northeast for a pattern of stars resembling a “W”.
In our culture, Cassiopeia was the queen of Aethiopia; the wife of King Cepheus and mother to Princess Andromeda. She was placed in the sky as a punishment for her boast that her daughter Andromeda was more beautiful than the sea nymphs. As punishment, she was forced to wheel around the North Celestial Pole on her throne, spending half of her time clinging to it so she does not fall off. Poseidon decreed that Andromeda should be bound to a rock as prey for the monster Cetus. Andromeda was rescued by the hero Perseus. Spoiler! Most of this legend was story line of the 1980s movie “Clash of the Titans”.
Cassiopeia’s portrayal varies according to the culture depicting her. In Persia, she was depicted as a queen holding a staff with a crescent moon in her right hand, wearing a crown. In France, she was portrayed as having a marble throne and a palm leaf in her left hand, holding her robe in her right hand. Yes, to the French she was naked.
In the ancient Celtic world she is Llys Don, the mother goddess and considered to be the mother of all the gods; the Tuatha de Danann. Other sources say that she is the mother earth goddess or the Goddess of fertility.
In Chinese astronomy, the stars formed three separate patterns: the Purple Forbidden enclosure, the Black Tortoise of the North, and the White Tiger of the West. Marshall Islanders see Cassiopeia as part of a great porpoise constellation. Lapplanders see the “W” of Cassiopeia as the form an elk antler.
To the Navajo, Cassiopeia and Ursa Major represent a married couple called the two Nahookos, which means The Female and Male Ones Who Revolve. Polaris represents a fire in the hogan, the traditional Navajo dwelling. This couple always occupies the same part of the sky, and no other stars ever intervene. As a result, Navajo law has evolved to stipulate that only one couple can occupy a hogan and enjoy its fire. Who knew there were “celestial” housing rules?
If you’d like to take a closer look at Cassiopeia, or any of the other wonderful and amazing things in the sky, please visit CSASTRO.org for a link to information on our monthly meetings and our free public star parties!
This is Bruce Bookout for the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society, telling you to keep looking up, Southern Colorado!