My Astronomy class on http://www.hogwartsishere.com required me to write an essay on my favourite constellation. It is set up in three parts: first, just what the constellation is and some informational things about it, second, an origin myth surrounding it and third, I got to make up my own creation myth surrounding it! I thought it would make for an interesting blog post! Enjoy!
For my favourite constellation, I have chosen that of Ursa Major, Latin for “The Great She-Bear”. I have chosen this mostly for sentimental reasons in that the asterism known as The Big Dipper (also known as “The Plough”) can be found in it, and this asterism has always been a comfort to me in when searching the night sky of the Northern Hemisphere no matter where in that Hemisphere I may be. It was the first constellation I learned to find in the night sky as a child, and it is still the first I seek at night in present times. Ursa Major, as well as being in the Northern Hemisphere, is bordered by such constellations as Draco (“The Dragon”), Camelopardalis (“The Giraffe”), The Lynx, Leo Minor (“The Little Lion”), Leo (“The Lion”, a member of the Twelve signs of the Zodiac and the star sign of yours truly), Coma Berenices (“Berenice’s Hair”), Canes Venatici (“The Hunting Dogs”), and Boötes (“The Herdsmen”). Quite the menagerie!
There are a lot of origin myths surrounding this constellation, as it has been visible in the night sky for most of recorded history. The Romans had a myth that a nymph of the goddess Diana, named Callisto, was sought after by the king of the gods (the almighty Jupiter). This made Jupiter’s wife, Juno, so jealous that she turned Callisto into a bear. This was the Roman myth surrounding Ursa Major, and that of Ursa Minor is connected in that Callisto encountered her son while in bear form, but he tried to kill her, so to protect them both, Jupiter turned them both into bears and they became Ursas Major and Minor, or The Bears Great and Little.
A wise woman once told me that the Great Bear was once a girl, shy and timid and vulnerable. She would gather berries and plants from the forest to eat, and her hair was as long as time and as black as night. One day, her innocence was stolen from her by a huntsman, who attacked her, cut off her hair to sell, and left his children in her belly. She gave birth to twins, but one died, so she was fiercely protective over the other, despite the origins of his father. She knew she had to gain strength and cunning to protect herself and her child from the likes of the huntsman, so she began to eat meat, to build muscle and grew her hair again, thick enough to protect her body from harm, teaching her child to do the same. Little did she know that the huntsman had been a werebear, a shapeshifter. Every full moon, her son would transform from a boy into a bear and wreak havoc on the surrounding villages. The girl, now a woman, did all she could to heal the hurts inflicted by her son, giving aid to the wounded and herbs to the sick. But she knew it was not enough.
So one full moon, she followed her son. She watched as he roared and tore apart a young girl the age she had been when she’d become pregnant with him. And she knew what she must do. Just as he was wiping the blood off his muzzle, the young bear’s mother stepped in front of him and held out her arm. Enraged with the fury of bloodlust, he clawed at her chest, striking deep. At that moment, she plunged a dagger through his thick fur into his heart, and they both died.
In the palace of the dead, she was awarded the longest blackest hair of night and the most prominent place in the night sky, to guide and comfort those in need. She is the Great Bear, and the Little Bear is with her, hers to protect us from forever. The stars are her tears, and if one bottles them, one can heal any sickness. So it was told to me, and so I tell it to you now.