I have always been fascinated by the sky. I was raised Catholic, and when I was a child, I believed that God and heaven were up there beyond the clouds, beyond the stars. I grew out of that belief eventually, but there was still that overwhelming fascination. When I was very young, I was sure I could see my grandmother that had passed on waving to me from the clouds. This would often bring tears to my mother’s eyes. One time, as an adult newly relocated to Albany, NY, I was having dinner with my husband and two children at the Gateway Diner on Central Avenue and had to run out to the car for something. As always, I looked up at the sky. I was amazed at what I saw! The clouds had spelled out, in cursive writing, “Frank L.” I know what you’re thinking, but it wasn’t a sky writer. They were big puffy clouds in that shape. It was unbelievable. Of course, I ran inside to show my family. When I did, others came outside, too. We all looked up with amazement. I remember thinking, “Wow, I’m so glad that’s not my name!”
As an adolescent, I became enthralled with Greek and Roman mythology, especially the stories about the constellations. This was the era of NASA’s space program which excited me even more. I no longer believed that heaven was up there, but really wanted to know what was. I knew that we would someday inhabit the stars along with who or whatever else lived up there. I grew up watching Bob Hope entertain the troops overseas while with the USO and decided that I would join the first USO traveling into space. Of course, things didn’t progress as we all thought they would, and my dreams to be in an interstellar USO were dashed but I never lost the fascination with the sky and outer space.
Because of my love of the sky, of course I watched the lunar eclipse the other night, long after my partner had gone to bed. I tried to get photos but couldn’t hold my camera still enough and didn’t have a tripod for it, so I took other beautiful photos anyway. One of them was a photo of Orion, who I've always had a special relationship with. It’s not my favorite story, but he always seems to be leading my way when I travel. I guess one reason is that I’m often traveling in the late fall, winter and early spring months. Orion has become my beacon, always leading me home and has shown up in a lot of my songs over the years. Every songwriter has recurring themes, and I am no exception.
Going back to his story though, it is pretty gruesome. According to many sources, Orion was the son of a mortal woman and Poseidon (God of the Sea). He was reported to be the most handsome of humanoids. Unfortunately, that beauty and noble birth must have gone to his head. He fell in love with Merope, daughter of King Oenopion who refused to give Orion his daughter’s hand in marriage. Orion then raped her and was blinded by Oenopion. He was then led by a servant to Hades where Helios (the sun) healed him. He went on to be the greatest hunter in the world, often hunting with Artemis, but upon threatening to kill all of the animals on earth, Mother Earth sent a giant scorpion to kill him. Upon his death, the goddesses all asked Zeus to put him up into the heavens where he remains. Two of the most well-known stars are in the constellation, Rigel (the base of his left leg and brightest star in the constellation) and Betelgeuse (his right shoulder).
He doesn’t sound like a very pleasant character, but although I don’t like his story, the constellation is very easy to find and was always the first one I taught my children and grandchildren to recognize. Once you recognize Orion, it’s easy to find Taurus and others. His belt is very recognizable and is noted in other cultures as well. Most European cultures also see him as a hunter. However, in Spain, the three stars that comprise his belt are known as "Las Tres Marías" (Spanish for "The Three Marys"), and in Puerto Rico, the three stars are known as the "Los Tres Reyes Magos" (Spanish for The Three Wise Men).
According to Wikipedia, the Ojibwa (Chippewa) Native Americans call this constellation Kabibona'kan, the Winter Maker, as its presence in the night sky heralds winter. To the Lakota Native Americans, Tayamnicankhu (Orion's Belt) is the spine of a bison. The great rectangle of Orion are the bison's ribs; the Pleiades star cluster in nearby Taurus is the bison's head; and Sirius in Canis Major, known as Tayamnisinte, is its tail.
Another Lakota myth mentions that the bottom half of Orion, the Constellation of the Hand, represented the arm of a chief that was ripped off by the Thunder People as a punishment from the gods for his selfishness. His daughter offered to marry the person who can retrieve his arm from the sky, so the young warrior Fallen Star (whose father was a star and whose mother was human) returned his arm and married his daughter, symbolizing harmony between the gods and humanity with the help of the younger generation. The index finger is represented by Rigel; the Orion Nebula is the thumb; the Belt of Orion is the wrist; and the star Beta Eridani is the pinky finger.
There is always a lot of brutality in these stories because it was a brutal time, and the plight of women was as chattel to be bought and sold or just taken to serve men. I almost wish there was a different constellation to be so attached to, but this is the one. I’ve followed it from coast to coast, written many songs and poems in which he figures prominently, welcome his arrival every fall and miss him in the summer. Maybe someday I’ll rewrite his story. Maybe he’s not even male at all. Maybe his sword and club are something else entirely. This might be an opportunity to write an empowering new story for women. Meanwhile, I’ll keep getting my inspiration from the stars.