There are some dramatic stories thundering through the August night sky every year, including desperate lovers bereft of one another, the miraculous feeding of the hungry multitude, and the great mystery of transfiguration.
In the Chinese tradition, this week marks the most romantic of the year, when “every lover can chance upon his love” while the waxing crescent Moon sweeps over the sunset edge of the world toward the Milky Way. In Chinese lore, the bright summer stars Vega and Altair take on the roles of the weaving princess and the cow herd, who are separated by the mighty river of stars by the disapproving sky god. But once each year, they are allowed a night of bliss, on the 7th Night of the 7th Moon, when all the magpies of the kingdom land in the river with outspread wings, creating a bridge for the lovers to cross. You can see the constellation Cygnus flying along the Milky Way between Vega and Altair, wings outstretched with the promise of love abundant! The 7th night this year is August 6.
Then there’s the star Spica, the shaft of wheat carried in the arms of the maiden Virgo, alone on the western horizon at sunset. Spica lends itself to the Christian story of the miraculous feeding of the five thousand with five loaves of bread and two fishes. The fishes are the constellation Pisces, which are opposite Virgo in the sky, and rise up in the east later in the night, trailing Orion in their wake.
Orion can be likened to the image of the Christ at Transfiguration, especially as painted by the Renaissance master Raphael five hundred years ago. When you look at Raphael’s painting, you see that the outstretched arms, the feet, and even the folds in Christ’s garment seem to imitate the shoulders of Orion, his feet, and the three sloping stars of his belt. The Feast of the Transfiguration is observed on August 6 each year, just as Orion returns to the morning sky.
Truly this is a week to know that the great stories of the world are written in the stars!
Listen to The Storyteller’s Night Sky on Interlochen Public Radio.