The 19th century American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow described the constellation Pegasus as a “wondrous winged steed, with mane of gold,” and right now, the glorious creature is winging to its highest place above the horizon.
Here’s what’s fascinating about Pegasus in my star lore historian’s playbook: every year in the Fall, when the final harvest comes in, our thoughts naturally turn toward waning life forces. The leaves have turned and fall earthward, the winds blow colder, and everything has a mood of retreat, of contracting and drawing within, particularly in the North.
In this season we also approach the sacred celebrations of loved ones who have died, but not before we get through the season’s halfway point, popularly known as All Hallow’d Eve, or Halloween. The relationship of this mischievous festival to scary dead things isn’t happenstance, and galloping into the midst of this potential horror comes the wondrous winged steed, Pegasus.
In most cultures around the world, horses are associated with crossing over the threshold from this life into the next, and there are ancient burial sites around the world where the remains of horses in full regalia are found near the remains of those to whom they were to give safe passage beyond
In the Russian tale of “Ivan and the Chestnut Horse,” Ivan’s dead father shakes off the damp earth of his grave to summon a marvelous horse for his youngest son. At the dead man’s first call, the distant thunder of mighty hooves can be heard. At his second call, the horse’s neighing is detected; and at the third call, the mighty creature appears, eyes, ears and nostrils shooting flames of fire, to circle three times around Ivan and his dead father, indicating that the call has been heard, and wishes can now be granted to those who have suffered a loss of hope.
So find Pegasus high in the southeast this week, listen for the rolling thunder, and trust that true wishes are always heard, and always answered.
~Mary Stewart Adams
This episode can be heard on my podcast site The Storyteller’s Night Sky, and each Monday on Interlochen Public Radio.
Pegasus shares the star Alpheratz with the constellation Andromeda, which can be imagined as the sacred kiss that happens between Ivan and his beloved in this week’s tale. Shown above in reverse by Hevelius, 17th century, and to the right as it can be seen in the evening sky.