The Rose of Winds and Stars

A compass rose, more poetically referred to as the “rose of winds” actually derives from the rose of stars, which was created by the nomadic peoples of the Middle Eastern desert lands, and which they used to mark the rising and setting of certain directional stars. Just as every star has a name, so too, the winds. On old maps, the compass rose included images of the winds that revealed their characteristics, and when you join these wind names with the stars beyond them, a vibrant picture begins to emerge, a mighty picture that was strong enough to bolster the fearless traveller who sought distant and unknown lands where dragons dwelled. With time, the star names grew silent, the Earth was swept from the center, and the names of the winds hid themselves in their directions…

When you look at old navigation maps, you always see the symbol of the “compass rose”, usually an 8-pointed star that indicates the cardinal and ordinal directions. On a ship’s compass, these points were named for the wind that came from that direction. For instance, the wind gods of Ancient Greece were known as the Anemoi and they included Boreas, the often-times violent north wind, or Zephyrus the much milder west wind.

The sidereal compass rose, on the other hand, marked 32 compass points, based on certain stars as they rose into the night sky. This originated with the nomadic tribes of the Middle East, who travelled through the desert lands gleaning their direction from the stars (the instrument known as the pelorus, or “dumb

The pelorus resembles a compass but has no magnets or independent directive properties. You can learn more about this instrument here.

compass” gives a clue to this history). Together with two stars marking north and south, these nomadic tribes marked 15 other stars at their rising and again at their setting, to arrive at 32 points around the horizon. This reveals how the “rose of winds” could also be referred to as the “rose of stars.”


The rose itself is the flower of Venus, goddess of love and beauty, whose care is that which lives in the human heart. To take direction from a compass rose, whether a rose of winds or a rose of stars, is to take direction from the heart.

Listen to my Storyteller’s Night Sky radio segment on the compass rose of winds and stars at this link.

And you can follow this link to Make a compass rose!

The Tower of Winds in Athens, also known as the Aerides (Greek for winds) also adds delight to this mystery of knowing the winds and their stars!

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