In Book I of Edmund Spencer’s epic poem “The Faerie Queene,” there’s a terrific tale of a battle between the Red Crosse Knight and a dragon. The poem is considered Spenser’s defining work, and earned him a lifetime pension from Queen Elizabeth the 1st.
The dragon-slaying Red Crosse Knight is often associated with St. George, patron saint of England. His feast day is celebrated in April every year. So what does this story have to do with the night sky in September?
It seems that George, serves as the earthly counterpart of that other defeater of dragons, the Archangel Michael, who is celebrated on September 29th in the calendar, and who, in John’s Book of Revelation, has a mighty battle in heaven with the red dragon, a beast with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns upon his heads. This beast’s tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth.
Looking into the night sky, we find the star creature of the Hydra, a mighty water serpent that snakes along beneath four constellations of the zodiac, or, under one-third of that mighty circle of stars.
The Hydra rises into the night in the Spring, not long before the feast of St. George, and it sets in the Fall, at this time of year, as we approach the Feast of Michael.
So what I imagine in this stellar set up is that in the northern hemisphere, we have the growing daylight of Spring and Summer to conquer the earthly dragon, which is manifest in human doubts, fears, and hatred, whereas in this season, as the daylight wanes, we have the conquering hero Michael to protect us, with a fierce courage that manifests in truth, goodness, and beauty, allowing us to experience what Edmund Spenser described in his epic poem, those untroubled nights that give counsel best.
Hear this episode on Interlochen Public Radio and on my podcast, The Storyteller’s Night Sky.
As shown above in the map by Hevelius, the constellation of the Hydra rises in the Spring and sets in the Fall, undulating along through the night beneath the constellations Cancer, Leo, Virgo and Libra, 1/3 of the stars of the zodiac.