Tag Archives: stars

Ursa Major – My Favourite Constellation

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!

ursa-major

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.

 


‘A Wrinkle in Time’ by Madeleine L’Engle

I first heard about Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time via Meg Cabot`s The Princess Diaries series, in which Mia cites it as one of the favourite books of her childhood. Then, it appeared in a book I still question myself for purchasing (but which I simply cannot seem to bring myself to get rid of): 501 Must-Read Books, published by Bounty Books, in the ‘Children’s Fiction’ portion of the anthology. So, when I came across A Wrinkle in Time in a used-book store for only $4.00, I knew it was time to give it a go.

For all its critical acclaim and all the ideas packed inside this story, it turned out to be much shorter than I had anticipated. Then again, it was originally written as a Young Adult book in 1962 (a different time with different standards for the lengths of Young Adult fiction), and there is definitely much more to it than at first appears. It is a coming-of-age story with all the deep and painful and awkward and confusing emotions that go along with being thirteen as I remember it (the age of the protagonist, Meg Murry). However, it has the added complexity of science, good-versus-evil, poetry, tesseracts, love, compassion, and aims to teach readers to see past the façade of appearances to the true substance underneath. My favourite passage illustrating this is a scene is between Aunt Beast and Meg on the planet Ixchel:

Perplexity came to her from the beast. ‘What is this dark? What is this light? We do not understand. Your father and the boy, Calvin, have asked this, too. They say that it is night now on our planet, and that they cannot see. They have told us that our atmosphere is what they call opaque, so that the stars are not visible, and then they were surprised that we know stars, that we know their music and the movements of their dance far better than beings like you who spend hours studying them through what you call telescopes. We do not understand what this means, to see.’

‘Well, it’s what things look like,’ Meg said helplessly.

‘We do not know what things look like, as you say,’ the beast said. ‘We know what things are like. It must be a very limited thing, this seeing.’

Below is an example of how to tesser (how to travel via a ‘wrinkle in time’):

tesseract

If there had not been more to the story I would have been very disappointed, since the beginning of the plot takes a lot longer to get going than the rest of the book (I’d say about 60% of the book takes too long to get going, and while it is philosophically interesting, I have a hard time thinking the young adults of today would really get into it straight from page 1), but since there are several subsequent books in this series, which I am very interested in reading, and since this particular book offers a good strong ending in its own right and doesn’t rely on those books to complete itself fully, I was satisfied.

A good (dare I say ‘timeless’?) book for younger readers (though not at all like the YA books sold at Chapters/Coles/Indigo today), this would probably be more currently suitable for an Intermediate but mature age group of 8 to 11 years old , and for older ones  too (even 25-year-olds like me).

3.5 stars out of 5