Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Find the Beehive Cluster in the pre-dawn sky!


























The constellations and celestial bodies visible before sunrise are truly spectacular at this time of year, and well worth rising early and heading directly outside to marvel at them, if at all possible.

The brilliant figure of Orion has been rising a bit earlier each morning (see this long-ago post which discusses this earlier-rising motion) and thus making his way just a bit further towards the west when viewed at the same time from one morning to the next. Because of this fact, he is now past the meridian line (or past "culmination") and further towards the west than the east by about 5:30 in the morning, but still close enough to the center of the sky to use him as your starting point for a tour of the dazzling "Winter Circle" of stars and constellations, which have been discussed previously in this post.

But now, viewers who can make it outside in the morning hours before sunrise have access to a special treat: the faint zodiac constellation of Cancer the Crab is almost directly overhead at around 5:30am or even 6:00am, affording an outstanding opportunity to locate the Crab's hidden jewel: the Beehive Cluster of stars. 

Not only does the Beehive play an extremely important role in many of the world's most famous Star Myths (including some very central episodes in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible), but it is an absolutely beautiful little cluster, just barely visible to the naked eye, and delightful and satisfying to locate and identify. The best opportunity to see the Beehive happens when Cancer is high in the sky, and having Cancer directly overhead at culmination or zenith is about as good of an opportunity as we get (of course, during early spring Cancer will be visible overhead during the hours before midnight, affording another opportunity to enjoy the Beehive, but then it will be "before bedtime" rather than "immediately upon waking up," for those on "conventional schedules" of waking and sleeping).

Below are a series of "night sky screenshots" from Stellarium.org, to help you feel confident in finding the Beehive for yourself. You will be glad that you did! 

Note: It really is best to use binoculars to identify the Beehive: while you can just barely perceive it with the naked eye, it will be just at the limits of perception (unless you are blessed with an extremely clear and dark and crisp location for observing the stars, such as a desert location).

Also, note that the images below are for the northern hemisphere, and are "taken" from a perspective of about 35N latitude (although that doesn't matter too much, as the constellations shown will simply be higher or lower in the sky but still mostly visible from almost everywhere between the Arctic and Antarctic circles). Viewers in the southern hemisphere will see the same stars along the zodiac band, but of course there everything will be upside down, so simply turn your computer screen 180 degrees on its head in order to view these images.

We begin with a wide-angle view of the sky, looking towards the southern horizon (for viewers in the northern hemisphere), at about 5:30am on the morning:

























None of the constellations are labeled here, but don't worry: we will dial in until we arrive at the beautiful Beehive Cluster. Note that the Milky Way can be seen cutting across the center of the sky. The Milky Way on this "end" is not as noticeable as it is when rising between Sagittarius and Scorpio, but you may still be able to see it depending on the darkness of your viewing location. You can see that Orion is located just "to the right" (that is, west) of the Milky Way band, and if you know where Gemini are located, you will see that the Milky Way flows right beneath their feet (they are above and to the left of Orion).

Orion's distinctive belt points down and "to the left" in the above image, enabling you to draw an imaginary line down and to the left from the belt to the extremely bright star Sirius, the so-called "Dog Star," located in Canis Major ("the Big Dog").

Below, I have drawn a yellow rectangle around the stars of Orion, and a blue rectangle around the stars of the constellation Canis Major, so that you can see where they are. In order to find the Beehive, you will probably want to begin with Orion as your first "stepping stone," since he is so easy to find:

Note that if you have Stellarium.org downloaded onto your own computer, you can "follow along" on your screen in a bit higher resolution than my screenshots above (I intend to get some software to make better screenshots in the future, but these should be good enough to enable you to find the Beehive, so hang in there, we will get to it in just a moment).

Now, if you look at the upper left corner of the yellow box I've drawn around Orion, you will basically be pointing right to the Twins of Gemini, who are kind of like two stick-figures lying at an angle above and to the left (east) of Orion.

If you go to the upper right corner of the yellow box, you will be just up from the "V"-shaped stars of the Hyades, in the zodiac constellation of Taurus the Bull (the star Aldebaran is the forward lower-leftmost star of the Hyades, and it is labeled in the above screenshot).

Below, I have removed the rectangles around Orion and Canis Major, and added rectangles around the Twins of Gemini (blue) and the stars of Taurus the Bull (red), along with a smaller red square around the beautiful Pleiades, which are actually part of Taurus:



























Can you still identify Orion? Good. When you go out to find the Beehive in the early morning, you will want to begin with Orion, identify Sirius and Canis Major if you want to, and then look upwards from Orion (in the northern hemisphere it is upwards) to find the "V" of the Hyades (and the silvery cluster of the Pleiades) on one side of Orion, and the long parallel sticks of Gemini on the other. Gemini will act as your next "stepping stone" to the Beehive in Cancer -- you're getting very close now!

Below is another screenshot of the same portion of the early-morning sky, this time with the front-end of Leo the Lion identified with another red rectangle. Note that this particular screen-shot cuts off the back-half of Leo at the left edge of the screen (he continues further left, and you will be able to see him in the actual sky). His leonine visage is clearly seen, arcing above yellow Jupiter (marked in the screenshot).

In the image below, we finally have an identifier for the region of the sky containing Cancer and the Beehive! It is marked with a green box. Unfortunately, you may not be able to see any stars in this region at first. That's because Cancer is so faint. However, Cancer can reliably be located directly between Gemini and Leo, which is why you need those "stepping stones." Basically, the mouth of the Lion points right towards the outstretched "arms" of the Crab:



























In the screenshots below, we will begin to "zoom in" on the region of Cancer, so that you can see the Beehive on the screen. In the dark pre-dawn sky, you may be able to spot the Beehive as a faint silvery mist halfway between the stars of Gemini and the stars of Leo. You get an additional "help" from the benevolent planet Jupiter ("Jolly Jove") this year, since he is now traveling towards Leo, but Jupiter is not always there. Since he is, however, you can also use Jupiter as a "left-side handrail" to help you zero-in on the Beehive:

























In the above image, we have zoomed-in quite a bit on Cancer. I have turned on the constellation outlines to help us identify everything. You can see Orion on the right, with the Milky Way flowing through. To the left of him as we look at the screen, you see the Twins of Gemini lying almost on their side, two parallel figures with Castor and Pollux as their heads. Down and to the left from the heads of the Twins is Jupiter (and to Jupiter's left, the stars of Leo) -- and directly below them you can also see the "Little Dog" (Canis Minor) consisting of just two stars, the lower of them being the very bright star Procyon, which is also marked in this screenshot.

Cancer is located between the Twins and Jupiter, or between Procyon and Jupiter. I like to think of Cancer the Crab as a trapezoidal body (the part to the right) with two "outstretched arms" (or claws) reaching to the left. However, in the above screenshot, the bottom line (or right-hand-side line) of the "trapezoid" is not drawn for us. I have drawn it in when discussing Cancer in previous posts, such as this one (that post also draws in the "muzzle" of the Lion, which is likewise not drawn-in on the above screenshots, even though it is helpful to envision it -- you can see the two stars that make up the muzzle, however, and draw in the connecting lines with your imagination, just as you will have to do in the morning sky outdoors).

In the screenshot above, you can actually make out the faint cluster of the Beehive, right in the heart of Cancer. Below is the same screenshot again, but this time I have drawn a green circle around the Beehive Cluster:

























So, now you know where in the constellation Cancer to look for the Beehive, but since it is still a bit faint in these images, below are two more in which I've "zoomed" the screen even a little more. First, without the green circle:

























Can you spot the Beehive now? It looks like a silver blur, between the outstretched arms of the Crab. Below I have reproduced the same screenshot, this time with a circle to identify the Beehive (green circle):


























Frankly, unless you live in an exceptional area for viewing the stars, you probably will have a difficult time identifying the stars of Cancer itself (although you will be able to see the Beehive, especially if you have binoculars). Your best course of action is probably to use the much brighter constellations of Gemini and Leo (with the added help of Jupiter) and look about halfway between Gemini and Leo / Jupiter.

If you do that, you will probably exclaim "I think I see it!" Once you think you see it, pull up your binos and point them to the spot. You may need to find Jupiter with the binos, and then swing slowly towards Gemini until you identify the Beehive. With binoculars, it should be unmistakeable.

The Beehive is a bit of a challenge to find, but it is a rare treat, and well worth the effort. The cluster plays an outsized role in many ancient myths (and I have mentioned it in discussions in numerous interviews -- see the interview archive, here). You may also want to check out this earlier post about the Beehive, which contains a Sky & Telescope video with some discussion on finding the Beehive.

However, the "stepping stones" in the series of images above should help you locate the Beehive with confidence! I believe that if you keep a positive attitude and don't give up, and follow the instructions above to go from Orion to Gemini to Leo and then look halfway in-between, you should be able to perceive this beautiful treasure in the heavens -- which is also a treasure conveying ancient wisdom from the Old Ones, for our benefit and enlightenment today!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Get ready for Halloween! (And for All-Hallow's Day, with the teachings of Alvin Boyd Kuhn)







































image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Halloween approaches in just a few days, but there is still time to get ready . . . by reading the enlightening meditation by Alvin Boyd Kuhn entitled Hallowe'en: A Festival of Lost Meanings.

The entire booklet is only 33 pages long (in its electronic format's electronic pagination -- 64 pages long in the original pagination, of which the "pages" are very short, only a paragraph or two each, with two or three of them appearing on every "page" of the electronic layout), and it is available for your enjoyment on the web here (click on the word "fullscreen" under the image of the book to read it in a book-like format online, selecting either single-page view or two-page view side-by-side).

Don't be fooled by its compact form, however: in this little volume Alvin Boyd Kuhn packs a virtual library's worth of elucidation of the ancient wisdom, as he explores the rich symbology and esoteric instruction available for our edification in the vital twin-holidays of Halloween and All-Saints' Day.

Kuhn begins by explaining that All-Hallow's Eve or the Hallowed Evening, together with All-Hallow's or All-Soul's or All-Saints' Day, is intimately connected with the message of the autumnal equinox, and that it thus stands as one of the four most important festival-days of the annual cycle, alongside the celebrations at the winter solstice, spring equinox, and summer solstice (pages 4 through 8 in Kuhn's original pagination, which are visible on the pages of the online edition linked above -- all subsequent page references will be to the original pagination).

Kuhn sadly predicts that in some future world "of more enlightened intelligence," men and women may look back upon our own age as "the epoch in which the people celebrated a series of religious festivals around the cycle of the year in nearly total ignorance of their true significance" (2). He also imagines that the ancients who have gone on long before us "must register uncomprehending dismay at the sight of our ghastly misconception and utterly travestied motives in our commemoration of the great annual festivals their dramatic genius instituted round the year" -- a melancholy thought (2).

The night revelry of Halloween on October 31, and the daylight commemoration of All Soul's or All Saints' Day, Kuhn argues, were originally intended to powerfully convey the soul's plunge into matter in the incarnation (symbolized by Halloween), and the subsequent glorification of the soul's return to spirit, "the dawn of a new life cycle" (10). 

Kuhn then proceeds to pile on exhibit after exhibit of evidence to support this understanding of the mysterious autumn festival.

The first remarkable insight he brings out is the fact that Halloween is in fact celebrated forty days after the actual date of the fall equinox, which takes place in the northern hemisphere on September 21 or 22 (there is some slippage on the date each year, due to the fact that the earth does not rotate on its axis an exactly even number of days before returning to the same point on its annual orbit around the sun). Forty days after September 21 would be October 31, the day of Halloween, and forty days after September 22 would be November 01, All-Hallow's Day. 

The number 40, Kuhn argues (backing his assertions up with more evidence from ancient scriptures and other sources) represents the time of the germination of a seed, and the time of gestation in the womb (he points out, for example, that the human period of gestation or pregnancy is forty weeks -- a fact which you can easily verify for yourself with a quick search on the internet, which indicates that doctors generally count forty weeks or 280 days, and not "nine months"). 

We have already seen that it is at the September equinox that the soul is "cast down" to incarnation, as discussed in numerous previous posts including this one. Thus, the forty-day period represents the "gestation" of the divine spark within matter (which takes place during this life) prior to bursting forth again to spirit -- which is celebrated on All-Saints' Day, when "All Souls" become "Saints" (11). Halloween represents the incarnation: it is a time of darkness in contrast to the light of spirit, a time of carnality, and a time of donning the form of the animal. Kuhn writes:
The "Holy Night" or "Hallowed Even" was therefore set for the fortieth day following the autumn equinox, with the signification that the soul entered incarnation (Latin carno means "flesh") on September 21, ran its cycle of evolution over its forty days of "incubation" or embodiment in the soil of human life and on October 31 culminated its progress at the end in its final glorification in the hallowed state of incipient godhood. It entered the cycle as the soul of a mortal human being and emerged at the end in the blessed ranks of the gods. 10 - 11.
In another of the absolute jewels of insight with which the book is strewn, Kuhn later describes this same concept by saying: "In body the soul sits or gropes in material darkness until the turn of the cycle brings the dawn of the spiritual day, when it is awakened out of its dreamy condition in the shadows of unreality into the bright day of its full vision of truth" (14). 

Here Kuhn is articulating a declaration which closely echoes the words of the Lakota holy man Black Elk, who said that this life is but a shadow of "the real world that is behind this one," the spirit world. This truth, that this material realm and our incarnate sojourn through it are actually but shadows of the real world of spirit, is embodied in the festival of Halloween, a celebration which revels in the night, in the shadows, and in all that is weird and surreal.

"Hallowe'en is par excellence the ritualization of the Incarnation," Kuhn says.

He then proceeds to go through the rich symbols of the celebration (showing that it has ancient origins, and connections to festivals such as Saturnalia and others), and to demonstrate the ways which they all illuminate aspects of the teaching that our incarnation in these material forms is a temporary plunging of a divine spiritual spark into matter. 

For instance, he notes that the traditional dress of "the Fool" is parti-coloured, that is to say half one color and half another (sometimes including the painting of the face half one color and half another), which visually expresses the mystery that in each one of us there are two natures combined together, both of which are integral to our human experience. It shows, Kuhn says, that our nature "is dually compounded and dually divided, soul and body, god and animal" (39).

The wearing of masks is another expression of the same truth, Kuhn explains, for it viscerally demonstrates the clothing of the inner divine spark with the animal or carnal physical body. "The god in us can only speak out through the lips of our animal selves," Kuhn says (31).

The symbology of the moon itself can be seen to illustrate this concept, for in the reflection upon the moon the sun's original light is only dimly reflected, just as in our incarnate selves the sun-rays of spirit are softened and dimmed by their marriage to matter (52).

On and on the symbols flow, powerfully reinforcing the understanding of Halloween as the celebration of our incarnation. Perhaps the most widely-recognized symbol of Halloween is the jack o'lantern, or pumpkin carved with grinning human features and illuminated with an inner candle. Again, the symbolism could not be more illustrative of our incarnate condition, Kuhn argues. We are an earthly organism with a divine spark inside (57). He notes that this same symbology, of a hidden flame inside of a temporary earthly vessel, is also found in the Old Testament passage of Gideon and the Midianites, in which Gideon instructs each member of his army to hide a lamp inside of a clay pot (Judges 7).

But Kuhn's intention is not merely to list all these symbols, but rather to get at the real question, the deeper question, the real tension that lies at the heart of the celebration of Halloween even to this day, which is this: "does all this animalistic or grotesque imagery mean that the incarnation is bad?" What is the reason that we have a celebration of the carnal and the dark? Why, when we get right down to it, would a divine spark incarnate in a physical body at all?

Kuhn does not shy away from this question, but rather meets it head-on, while declaring that the suppression of the physical side of our nature is as dangerous as the suppression of the spiritual side. He argues that, like the prodigal son in the New Testament parable who came to his realization through reflection on his actions (actions which eventually involved sinking to the level of the swine), it is through contemplation of and reflection upon the lessons of our actions here in the material body that we achieve the spiritual lessons which lead to our transformation.

Using the spiritual picture of Phaeton, the son of the sun-god who was not yet ready to drive the heavenly steeds across the sky, Kuhn explains that we too start out like that young god who cannot handle the powerful horses, but that our plunge will eventually lead to our upward transformation:
The Greek myth of Phaeton, son of Apollo, rashly essaying to drive the sun-chariot of his father across the sky and letting it get out of hand, so that the Sun-God had to strike him down to save the world, is a variant graph of the same conception. It is no derogation of the theological presupposition underlying this delineation of evolutionary process that the youthful god in man's nature had to indulge in a veritable revel of license in his use of the powers of the body which is the kingdom he is given to rule. Otherwise we must ask how he would ever learn their power and master the art of bringing the under his control for their true function in the upward movement which carries both him and the forward to grander being.
As he took the reins of directive rulership in his hands and whipped up the fiery steeds of the physical chariot he must learn to drive, he became familiar with their capabilities and their power, saw how they could be exploited for high service and at any rate took keen note of the outcome of his efforts. It was in this way that his rioting with them brought a return to invaluable benefit to himself. For it is out of reflection upon the consequences of our acts that mind is born. And only when mind assumes full direction of the soul's employment of the life forces will the still higher birth of spirit be brought to pass. Even the fool's folly becomes in the end, through the pain that follows it, life's appointed schoolmaster, our pedagogue in growth. Out of our wildest orgies eventually emerge the principles of wisdom. Our reason returns to us. 32-33.
And thus our being "cast down" into the physical body becomes the vehicle for our gaining of wisdom and our later transcendence and spiritual growth, according to the ancient teaching. As we have already seen, this "casting down" was illustrated in the yearly wheel at the point of the fall equinox -- a point that was associated with the zodiac sign of Virgo. 

And here we see one more brilliant metaphor in the mysterious and little-understood festival of Halloween: the image of the witch. Kuhn explains that the circling of witches around the cauldron perfectly illustrate the cycles of incarnation, and the boiling cauldron itself perfectly illustrates the seething passions and conflicts of this earthly existence (44). The action of the witches dancing around the fire and the cauldron typify the forces which cast us down into this incarnate material existence, personified in the goddess of magic and darkness Hecate herself, whose name Kuhn demonstrates (on pages 47 - 52) to be related to the word hex, which means both "a spell" and (in German) "a witch," but which also relates to the number six, which is the number of the cube and which (unfolded) creates the cross of material existence upon which we are "hexed" or "crossed" in this incarnate existence (for extended discussion of the cross-symbol as representative of our dual state in this incarnate life, see this blog post and follow some of the links within it to previous discussions on the topic, as desired).

Thus the goddess-power who is depicted as sending us into this incarnate life takes the form of Hecate at Halloween, as well as the form of the witches circling and circling around the cauldron. But remember that, as discussed above, the ancient teaching implied that we come down into the incarnation for our benefit, for our transformation, and for our gaining of wisdom, enlightenment, and consciousness. Thus, the very name witch, as Kuhn demonstrates, has at its root the word which gives us "wit" and "wisdom" and "wise" (and "wizard"), and is related to the German word wissen, "to know" (43).

And Halloween, the festival of darkness that was traditionally followed by All-Hallow's Day, remains as a signpost trying to point us to that wisdom: to teach us about this mystery of the incarnation, its purpose and its promise. It remains like an old, weather-beaten mile-marker along an ancient trail: erected in ages long past to convey information, which today we can barely make out. In its use of potent symbols, it continues to carry its ancient message, if we can only remember the key to translating that message.

In this way, it is very much like the message in the stars, and in the Star Myths which continue to carry a message that has somehow been obscured and nearly forgotten, but which can still be deciphered once we recover the key to the cipher. And in fact, the symbols of these annual festivals and the symbols of the stars themselves are very closely aligned -- as we would expect: for does not the celebration of earthly revelries upon important days that are determined by heavenly markers not indicate that the festivals themselves are a form of "bringing down" to earth the markers of the celestial sphere? (What follows is my own added "Star Myth" interpretation to the subjects we have been discussing).

To see what I mean when I say that these ancient festivals with their symbols are a sort of "earthly" form of the celestial markers in the heavens above, look again at the painting above, of the witch drawing her magic circle around a fiery cauldron as the crows gather to watch and participate (by John William Waterhouse, from 1886). Note the symbology which the artist employs: she has a long stick in one hand, and a golden sickle in the other (an instrument fraught with many layers of meaning, but one of them is simply the harvesting of grain or wheat). Nearby there is a cauldron, and watching her intently are the crows.

Now look below at the region of the night sky in which we find the constellation Virgo, the zodiac sign who presides over the autumnal equinox and the "casting down" of souls into incarnation (the point at which the sun's ecliptic drops back down below the celestial equator, and the days once again become shorter than the nights).


























The above screen-shot does not have the outlines as suggested by H. A. Rey, and therefore Virgo is somewhat "incompletely drawn," but I include the "un-labeled" version above so that you can see where the stars are, before I draw in the lines. Virgo is the constellation in the center-left as we look at the image, with the star Spica on her hip, which is labeled. Spica was anciently associated with a sheaf of wheat, as you can see from this older image of the constellation Virgo. This is why the witch in the painting is holding a sickle in one hand. Looking at the outline of Virgo above, can you see why she is holding a long stick (or magic wand) in her other hand?

Below is the exact same portion of the sky, this time labeled to help illustrate the connection:


























There is Virgo, casting souls down to incarnation: transforming them into "animal" form with her wand (clothing them in physical matter). Next to her is the brilliant little constellation of Corvus the Crow (here is a previous discussion of this delightful constellation -- easy to spot, during the months in which Virgo is high in the sky during the prime viewing hours of the night, but not right now). Next to Corvus, and composed of much fainter stars, is a constellation known as Crater the Cup, which no doubt functions as the witches' cauldron.

And so the ancient festivals, derived as they were from the motions of the heavens and the heavenly bodies, and the ancient myths, derived from the stars and the constellations, all worked together to convey to us a profound view of nature and of the nature of human existence. As Alvin Boyd Kuhn noted at the beginning of his booklet on Halloween and All-Saints' Day, these ancient signposts have now fallen into such a state of disrepair that few today give them much thought. And yet they are still there, patiently sending forth their message to us, night after night, and year after year.

What a thrill we get when we suddenly begin to understand what they are saying! And what strange and wonderful things they have to say to us!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Happy Birthday to Bootsy Collins!




Happy Birthday today to Bootsy Collins: singer, bassist, songwriter, and space traveler! (October 26)

You can hear his distinctive and pioneering bass on any Parliament song and almost any Funkadelic song, and he continues creating, receiving, and bringing out new music from the celestial spheres, such as Tha Funk Capitol of the World album, which can be played in its entirety at his official website

The entire mythology of the Funk revolves around the message that all men and women are somehow descended from the stars, which also happens to be true (mythology being one of the most profound ways to convey truth, along with music).

Given the starry nature of Bootsy's music (and his sunglasses and Space Bass), one must wonder if his name is somehow related to the important and Funky celestial constellation of Bootes.

In any case, his influential bass-playing has inspired whole generations of musicians, who are all undoubtedly grateful for his creative genius and his decision to land on this planet when it was passing through this particular point on its orbit! Wishing him many happy returns of the day! 


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Star Myths in the Arabian Nights!

























imagery: Stellarium.org

SPOILER ALERT: This blog post will reveal my interpretations of the celestial foundations underlying two episodes from the incredible Thousand Nights and a Night (otherwise known as the 1,001 Nights, or the Arabian Nights). 

These two episodes were introduced in the previous post entitled "The Arabian Nights: can you unlock their celestial metaphors?" If you want to go back and try to unlock them for yourself before you read the following explanation, just click the link before reading any further, and come back after you're done!

Here we go . . .

In the first episode, which really launches the entire dynamic of the Nights and sets up the horrific situation in which a king (King Shahryar) decides to enjoy a new virgin bride each night and then slay her in the morning, the king's brother Shah Zaman is invited to visit -- but as Zaman leaves his palace, he remembers that he has left behind him a string of jewels he intended to give to his brother Shahryar. 

He returns home for the string of jewels, only to find his wife on the bed in the arms of an adulterous lover. Drawing his scimitar, he immediately cuts them both in half, leaving them in four pieces. He then proceeds to fall into depression, refusing to eat and languishing in self-pity . . . and the story proceeds from there.

The Arabian Nights can be graphic, violent, and even horrifying -- but I believe that, just like other remnants of the ancient wisdom bequeathed to humanity, the literal stories are only the vessels used to contain ineffable spiritual truth, and that to focus only on the literal action is to "miss all that heavenly glory" towards which they are pointing us.

While they are certainly fascinating and entertaining and moving and memorable as literal stories, the Nights also function as profound spiritual metaphors regarding the nature of our human condition as incarnate spiritual beings, and regarding the nature of this apparently physical universe, which itself is actually infused with and interpenetrated by an unseen world. 

This metaphorical spiritual message can also be found in the sacred texts and mythologies of nearly every other culture on earth, and which actually unites the world's sacred traditions, as discussed in numerous previous blog posts and in my most-recent book, The Undying Stars.

One of the biggest indicators that the Thousand Nights and a Night should be interpreted esoterically is the fact that, like the sacred mythologies found around the world, they are built upon the same common system of celestial metaphor which can be seen operating in "star myths" of ancient Egypt, of ancient Greece, of Japan, or North America, or northern Europe, or Africa, or Australia, or China, or the surviving texts of the Maya, and even in the scriptures of what are commonly called the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. For dozens of examples establishing this undeniable fact, see this "Star Myth index" . . . or some of these "amateur videos."

The story of Shah Zaman returning for a string of jewels and catching his wife in flagrante can clearly be seen to correspond to a specific set of familiar constellations in the night sky. The "string of jewels" is an important clue, and one with which readers will be familiar if they remember the explanation I offered of the irresistible necklace of Freya from the Norse myths. There, we saw that this necklace corresponds to the Corona Borealis, or "Northern Crown," a beautiful feature of the northern sky and one which appears over and over in the world's mythology, playing many different roles. 

From the Northern Crown, we can fairly easily identify the rest of the constellations in the story of Shah Zaman and the two illicit lovers. Below is a screen-shot of the region of the sky containing the Northern Crown, taken from the excellent application Stellarium.org (free and open-source and available on the web here). 

Note that in this screen-shot, the constellation outlines are provided, but they are not the constellation outlines proposed by H. A. Rey in his outstanding books on the stars, and therefore they are not very helpful. The following image, with outlines showing my interpretation of the incident with Shah Zaman and his wife, provides outlines which follow the H. A. Rey system. However, the portion of the sky without those outlines is provided below so that you can check and see that the stars I am connecting up with colored lines in my explanation do indeed match actual stars as they are found in the heavens above.

























In the above Stellarium image, the circlet of stars which make up the Northern Crown are seen as a "U"-shaped constellation near the center of the screen-shot. This is the "string of jewels" which Shah Zaman forgets. To the right of the Northern Crown is the important constellation of Bootes, the Herdsman, and below him is the even more important constellation of Virgo the Virgin, with the bright star Spica on her hip (labeled, near the bottom of the image and on the right-hand-side of the screen as we look at it on the page). 

To the left of the Northern Crown is the constellation Hercules, a mighty warrior and a hulking gigantic figure in the night sky -- but the outline provided above is simply awful, and leaves him looking like some kind of giant spider. The outline suggested for Hercules by H. A. Rey is superior in every way, and is the one that I myself use to visualize the constellation when I am looking for him in the northern dome of the heavens. Hercules, of course, is brandishing his favorite weapon, his Club -- but in the story of Shah Zaman and his unfaithful wife, the Club of Hercules becomes a scimitar!

Below is the same star-chart shown above, but with the outlines and labels as I would interpret the story from the Arabian Nights:

























And here we see the story laid out in all its glory, just as it appears in the heavens for your celestial reading pleasure! 

Beginning in the lower-right of the image, we see Shah Zaman's wife, played by the zodiac constellation of Virgo, and outlined in yellow in my diagram. Just above her is the adulterous lover, outlined in red and played by Bootes the Herdsman, who often plays the role of the consort of Virgo in various myths around the globe. To the left of Bootes is the pesky string of jewels, forgotten by Shah Zaman when he headed out to visit his brother, and they are outlined in a kind of lavender color. Finally, to the left of these we see the constellation Hercules, representative of Shah Zaman charging in upon the surprised couple, raising his dreadful scimitar and preparing to cut them down. He is outlined in green.

The number of celestial clues that have been worked into the story as related in the Arabian Nights really leaves little doubt that the story corresponds directly to the heavenly drama, as do so many other myths and sacred stories from humanity's ancient past.

[Thank you, by the way, to those of you who sent me your interpretations, even if you did not want to share those publicly! I hope you enjoyed the exercise of exploring the possible celestial connections in the Nights! No one actually proposed either of the interpretations shown here for the two tales, but that doesn't mean nobody out there came up with some version of these interpretations -- I'm sure most people who gave it a try just decided to participate "in private." Also, my interpretations are not "the answer," of course -- these are open to debate and discussion. One reader sent in a thought which had not occurred to me, which was that this "cutting in half" of the two lovers might have to do with an equinox, which is a very good observation! I would argue that if it does have to do with an equinox, then it would most likely be the fall equinox, and not the spring equinox, since Virgo is associated with the fall equinox in the northern hemisphere -- but if it is an equinox, then we can further speculate that perhaps Shah Zaman represents one half of the year, probably the "lower half," and his brother King Sharyar represents the other, and probably the "upper half." Great observation and thanks for sharing it!] 

Turning now to the story of the Fisherman and the Jinni, we encounter an absolutely fabulous tale and the one with which the beautiful, courageous, and intelligent Shahrazad opens her thousand-and-one nights of storytelling, with which she will save her life -- and, by extension, the lives of all the other young unmarried women of the kingdom including her own sister, and with which she will ultimately save King Shahryar from his own madness and self-destructive jealousy and pride. 

The Fisherman and the Jinni is a tale-within-a-tale-within-a-tale and it contains several more "nested" and interwoven tales within it, but it opens with the account of a poor old Fisherman who casts his net into the waters each day, and one day pulls up a series of strange catches beginning with a dead jackass, followed by an earthen jar (Richard Francis Burton calls it an "earthern pitcher"), followed by some potsherds and broken glass, and finally by a lamp containing a genie (or Jinni -- and one who in this story is identified as an Ifrit, and who pours from the lamp in a towering column of smoke spiraling up to the heavens).

What could be the celestial counterparts to this fantastic opening to the series of stories contained in the tale of the Fisherman and the Jinni? 

Well, there are a number of clues in the story to help us, not least of them a lamp next to a column of smoke -- which almost certainly corresponds to the "Teapot" portion of the constellation Sagittarius, which is located right next to the rising "smoke" of the Milky Way galaxy, as discussed in this previous blog post regarding Revelation chapter 9 (which also refers to the Milky Way that rises between Sagittarius and Scorpio as a rising smoke).

Another powerful clue is the Fisherman's net itself, which may suggest to the minds of readers familiar with the recent discussion of the celestial foundations of the story of Shem, Ham and Japheth (the sons of Noah) the Great Square of Pegasus, which appears in that story as a sheet carried backwards over the shoulders of Shem and Japheth. That distinctive Square in the sky could also be the net of the Fisherman, which keeps bringing up everything except fish from the briny deep. 

The connection to the Great Square in the story found in the Arabian Nights is strengthened by the story's repetition of the fact that the Fisherman only casts his net into the waters four times per day, and never more than that: if we are looking for a celestial counterpart to the net, the repetition of the number four is certain to suggest to us the mighty celestial Square, which after all is a figure containing four corners and the constellation that might come to mind most readily in connection with that particular number.

From there, we can readily identify the other details of the Fisherman's tale, and there are quite enough of them to make the correspondence more than certain. Below is a screen-shot showing the region of the sky which corresponds to the start of the tale of the Fisherman and the Jinni, once again shown without the helpful outlines (which will be provided in the subsequent image):

























Here you can see the horizon, which is shown as an arc across the lower part of the screen. There is a red letter "S" near the center bottom of the screen (partially obscured by the location and date-time data), which indicates that we are looking towards the southern horizon (the viewer is located in the northern hemisphere in the above image, at approximate latitude of 35N). 

The beautiful towering "column of smoke" of the Milky Way galaxy can clearly be seen rising up out of the southern horizon, and just to the left of it as we look at the image can be seen the "teapot" portion of the zodiac constellation of Sagittarius (just to the left of the planet Mars, which is labeled and which just happens to be located in the center-line of the Milky Way in this particular screenshot for this particular date and time and year -- Mars is not always located there, by any means).

Near the top of the screen towards the left-half of the image as we look at it on the page, and nearly touching the top of the image, we can see the Great Square of Pegasus, corresponding to the Fisherman's net. Almost directly below that, we find the zodiac constellation of Aquarius -- but once again, the outline does not follow that proposed by H. A. Rey, and is most unhelpful for visualizing Aquarius and his pitcher or vessel of water. Below is the same screen-shot with the same stars and constellations, but this time with the outlines as proposed in the system offered by H. A. Rey, as well as with labels to indicate my interpretation of the celestial foundations of this important first story told by Shahrazad:


Now we can clearly see that this fantastical story has an undeniably celestial origin, and contains enough clues to indicate its corresponding heavenly players.

Beginning from the top-left of the sky, we see the Fisherman's Net, played by the Great Square of Pegasus and outlined in white. Just to the right of the square we see Pegasus himself, that celestial winged horse (the Square represents his wings), but in this particular story he is playing a decidedly more ignominious role as the Dead Jackass which the Fisherman first hauls up with his Net. Pegasus in the above image looks about "right-side up," but at other points during his journey across the sky (particularly when the Great Square is just rising up in the east, for viewers in the northern hemisphere), he is kind of positioned "upside-down," and this fact no doubt accounts for the depiction in this story of the outline of Pegasus as a dead donkey, with his four feet pointing up in the air.

Just below Pegasus we see the constellation Aquarius, outlined in green. I believe that Aquarius plays the role of the Fisherman in this particular story, primarily because Aquarius is located in close proximity to the Net, and also because directly below Aquarius there is a constellation known as Piscus Austrinus, or the "Southern Fish." This constellation is rather faint, but contains the brilliant star Fomalhaut which is very easy to spot in the night sky below Aquarius (you can see it in the tip of the nose of the Fish even in the above diagram).

The second thing that the Fisherman dredges up with his Net in the tale of the Fisherman and the Jinni is an earthen pitcher (Burton calls it an "earthern pitcher," and it is thus labeled in the diagram above). This object clearly corresponds to the jar or water-vessel of Aquarius, which is really part of the constellation Aquarius but which I have outlined in light blue in the image above, so that you can see it more easily.

The third haul of the Net in the tale brings up "potsherds and glass," which really could be anything and which I am not exactly certain about identifying definitively with any particular stars or groups of stars. My most-likely candidate for these potsherds and glass would probably be the glittering trails of stars located at the bottom of each of the two "streams" of water you see depicted coming out of the water-pitcher of Aquarius. These are very distinctive and easy to spot in the actual night sky, although they don't show up very well in the screen-shots above.

Below, I have "zoomed-in" on Aquarius and his water-vessel in order to try to show these little glittering trails at the bottom of each (imagined) stream of water pouring out of the vessel. These little curves of stars are quite beautiful, and they actually "create" the stream of water that we imagine coming out of the pitcher of Aquarius, since the two "streams" themselves have no stars in them: the streams are entirely imaginary, and are created when we "connect" using our mind's eye the pitcher with these two little "curved lines" of stars. 

Here is a closeup of Aquarius and his jar, with the two lines of water coming out of the jar but no lines drawn on top of the two glittering curves of stars (so that you can see them more easily):
























And below, one more time, just so that you can be sure to see the little "trails" of stars that I am talking about, and which I believe are the most-likely candidates for the "potsherds and glass" which the Fisherman hauls up in his "third catch" of the day, I have enclosed them in a circle (or oval) of orange:



Finally, we now come to the "fourth catch" of the day -- the one which will ultimately change the Fisherman's fortunes forever. He utters a prayer before sending his Net one more time into the deep, noting that so far he has brought back nothing which he or his wife can eat, and asking that he might please be granted his daily bread. 

When he brings back the Net this time, there is a copper-colored lamp, its mouth sealed with a leaden seal upon which is fixed "the stamp of the seal-ring of our Lord Sulayman son of David," whom we would commonly refer to as King Solomon (27). As we might expect, these being the Arabian Nights, when the Fisherman removes the seal, what should pour forth from the lamp but a spiring column of smoke reaching to the heavens, which ultimately resolves into a powerful Jinni, who promptly informs the poor Fisherman that he must now kill him within the hour, although he will allow the Fisherman to choose the manner of his death. 

And the story proceeds from there -- it is a remarkable tale, and one with which many modern readers may not be familiar. Be sure to take the time to check it out (there are various places on the web to read translations of the Nights, including Burton's translation in its entirety, but of course it is my fixed opinion that The Arabian Nights belongs on everyone's bookshelf in its physical paper form, if it is at all possible for you to obtain it).

In any event, the constellation that plays the part of the genie's magic lantern in this tale is fairly easy to spot, and it is the distinctive outline of the brightest stars in the zodiac constellation of Sagittarius, shown in the full-story star-chart diagram above as an outline of yellow lines and labeled "Lantern." The fact that its "spout" points right into the glowing column of the rising "smoke" of the Milky Way galaxy makes this identification of the celestial counterpart to the story almost certain.

In fact, the wealth of detail in the story which corresponds directly to the constellations surrounding the "Fisherman" of Aquarius makes the above interpretation a very strong hypothesis, in my opinion. The fact that literally hundreds of other myths and sacred stories from around the world are built upon this very type of celestial metaphor makes the celestial correspondence that I am here proposing for the Thousand and One Nights even more likely. 

In fact, it should be pointed out that I did not even know these correspondences existed when I revisited the Arabian Nights recently (although I strongly suspected the Nights would be full of them). I do not address the Arabian Nights in The Undying Stars (which deals in much more detail with the celestial foundation of the stories in the Old and New Testaments, and then launches into an examination of the profound esoteric wisdom conveyed by these ancient star myths and the other star myths around the world). 

The fact that familiarity with the system of celestial metaphor enables us to discover the same metaphorical system in operation in other myths or stories not previously examined (such as just demonstrated with the Arabian Nights -- and many more examples from the Nights could be offered) argues very strongly that the existence of this ancient and worldwide system of celestial metaphor is no mere figment of the imagination. The number of correspondences to the details of the story offered in the two explanations above shows that these celestial metaphors were actually part of the tales: they are not "subjective interpretation," because the details are actually present in the constellations of the night sky.

The ramifications of this fact are profound, and have the potential to change our understanding of sacred literature, of the connections between all the various branches of the human family, and of the very history of mankind. Where did this nearly universal system come from, and how does it turn up over and over again in the treasured stories and myths of humanity around the globe?

Perhaps if, like the Fisherman in the story, we persevere in putting our Net out into the deep waters -- and if we accompany our efforts with a heartfelt prayer -- we will one day receive an answer.









Friday, October 24, 2014

The Arabian Nights: can you unlock their celestial metaphors?







































image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Richard Francis Burton (1821 - 1890) "was one of those Victorians whose energy and achievements make any modern man quail," in the words of the novelist A. S. Byatt in the introduction to Burton's translation of the Thousand Nights and a Night, also commonly known as the Thousand and One Nights, or the Arabian Nights (xv). A partial list of examples ensues, of course:
He lived like one of his own heroes, travelling in Goa, Equatorial Africa, brazil, India, and the Middle East. He took part in the Crimean war. He went with J. H. Speke to find the source of the Nile and discovered Lake Tanganyika. He disguised in himself as an Afghan dervish and doctor and went on pilgrimage to the sacred cities of Mecca and Medina -- a journey where unmasking would have cost him his life. He wrote books on swordsmanship and geology. According to Borges he dreamed in seventeen languages and spoke thirty-five -- other sources say forty. xv.
When he died on October 20, 1890, we are told that, "alarmed by the sexually explicit content of her husband's papers, Isabel Burton burned almost all of his notes, diaries, and manuscripts -- an immeasurable loss to history" (vii -- this quotation from the publisher and not from A. S. Byatt's introduction, which begins on page xiii). That could be what happened, or it could be a convenient cover-story -- we will probably never know.

In any case, Burton's translation of the Nights was begun in the 1850s and finally published in the 1880s in sixteen volumes. The introduction by A. S. Byatt cited above declares that of all the translations of the Nights, "the most accessible complete translation remains Burton's extraordinary translation" along with its "immense apparatus of extraordinary footnotes" (xv). Of the massive work Burton himself said:
This work, laborious as it may appear, has been to me a labour of love, an unfailing source of solace and satisfaction. During my long years of official banishment to the luxuriant and deadly deserts of Western Africa, and to the dull and dreary half-clearings of South America, it proved itself a charm, a talisman against ennui and despondency. Impossible even to open the pages without a vision staring into view [. . .] Arabia, a region so familiar to my mind that even at first sight, it seemed a reminiscence of some by-gone metempsychic life in the distant Past [. . .] air glorious as ether, whose every breath raises men's spirits like sparkling wine [. . .] while the reremouse flitted overhead with his tiny shriedk, and the rave of the jackal resounded through deepening glooms, and -- most musical of music -- the palm-trees answered the whispers of the night-breeze with the softest tones of falling water. xxiii - xxiv.
Burton's translation -- and his voluminous endnotes -- are famous for their extremely sexually explicit nature, especially during the period that they first appeared, as a private printing of one thousand copies to subscribers only. Modern readers will find that their content (and perhaps their translation) also appears on the surface to be highly objectionable in terms of being both sexist and racist -- so much so, in fact, that they may prove difficult or even impossible for some to actually read. 

And yet, as with other ancient tales, I would argue that the tales which made their way into the Thousand Nights and a Night are almost certainly deeply esoteric in nature, and that to read them only on a literal level is as mistaken as reading Herman Melville's Moby Dick as a story about whaling (this concept is discussed in my most recent interview on Truth Warrior with David Whitehead, beginning at about 0:17:00 and continuing through to 0:24:00, as well as in the essay I wrote for Jacob Karlin's meditation and Selfless Self-Help site entitled "Clothing spirit with matter and raising it up again: How metaphor transcends and transforms the material realm"). 

The themes of the Thousand Nights and a Night ostensibly center around the differences between men and women, and their different "powers," and this is the approach to these fabulous tales that is most commonly employed today (simply search for them on the internet for a host of examples). In the world of the Nights, women appear on the surface to be less powerful in the extremely patriarchal (and violent) society that is depicted, and yet they ultimately to be far more powerful. 

In fact, the entire tension of the story is established by the deflation experienced by first one royal brother, Shah Zaman, and then his brother, King Shahryar, when their wives "get the better of them," each of their frustrations being relived in turn only when each successively encounters an example even more egregious than his own humiliation (their humiliation is only relieved by the even greater humiliation of another man by his wife). Their humiliation leads to a predictably (if excessively) "male" response, the rule that sets the stage for the "thousand and one nights," an extreme and violent "solution" which is finally subverted and corrected by the wisdom, patience, grace, charm, wit, circularity, and feminine power of Shahrazad (or Sheherezad in some translations), assisted by her sister Dunyazad.

Throughout the tales, the power of women can be destructive and devouring, or it can be constructive and restorative, but it is almost always ultimately far more formidable than that of men, despite the latter's excessive bluster, arbitrary ultimatums, and readiness to try to solve most problems by immediately swinging at them wildly with a scimitar. 

While the above theme of the "power" of women versus the "power" of men is undeniably present throughout the Nights, I would still argue that to read them on this fairly literal level, or to approach them as a sort of "women's studies" about how women "were treated" in some historical society and how they dealt with and overcame that treatment, is actually a mistake, in that it fails to see the Nights as deeply esoteric and as almost certainly metaphorical, not literal. The same can be said for the extremely racist episodes and descriptions in some of the tales: while the racist elements are highly objectionable and regrettable, and one would prefer that some other metaphor had been employed (the same could be said for some of the sexual content as well), it is likely that the real meaning of the tales is on a level other than the literal, and that the fantastical and often bizarre events and episodes which are related were originally intended to highlight aspects of our universal human condition, or were descended from ancient myths whose original intent was to do so (it is possible that the more racist elements came in later, perhaps during medieval times). 

And this is the key: if the Nights in all their incredible tales and transformations and encounters with fire-beings such as jinns and janns and ifrits are actually describing a vision of the soul in its incarnations, and a vision of the universe as shamanic and holographic in nature, then they are not primarily about the division of humanity into men versus women, or this "race" against that one. When a wife is depicted as leaving an almost-ideal husband to chase after rag-bound and filthy and abusive adulterous lovers in illicit affairs, this can be seen as an esoteric depiction of our incarnate condition, in which we can so easily forget our innate (but hidden) spiritual or even divine component and embrace too thoroughly our "animal" or physical nature: a metaphor which applies equally to incarnate men as to incarnate women (see the many similar examples in the scriptures of both the Old Testament and the New Testament, including that of the Prodigal Son, who ends up eating husks among the swine before he remembers his true origin). 

In other words, if we read the Nights on a literal level, they will almost certainly appear to divide humanity, along "racial" or "ethnic" or "gender" lines. They will also be quite disturbing and even revolting to many readers, or at least deeply offensive to their sensibilities -- even degrading to the human condition and destructive of human dignity. However, if we read them on a metaphorical and esoteric level, they can actually be seen as teaching a unifying and an uplifting and even a dignifying message -- because they show how our descent into the material realm (the very words matter and material being feminine in connotation, related to the Latin word mater or "mother") exposes us to death, to "beatings," to a type of enslavement, to oppressions, to exigencies beyond our control, to transformations, and subjugations, and yet opens the door for exaltation and transformation and even to a transformation that benefits others and enables them to be transformed as well (all of which Shahrazad experiences and demonstrates throughout the Nights).

See this previous post for more on this concept of unifying rather than dividing.

When profound truths put on the garments of metaphor, they descend from the spiritual realm to the material, in order to enable our matter-bound minds to see, through them, that spiritual realm which we have forgotten -- and then these metaphors leap back upwards to the spiritual realms from whence they came, and drag our consciousness along with them. This is what Melville's Moby Dick demonstrates, when deep spiritual subjects come down to put on the rough garments of a whaling vessel, and it is what the Thousand Nights and One Night demonstrate when profound matters of human incarnation and the nature of our spirit-infused universe are clothed in the often gratuitously violent and sexually explicit situations depicted in those tales.

This motion of "metaphor itself" in descending from the "realms of the ideal" into the physical trappings of the vehicle chosen to house or to clothe the metaphor in familiar material form, for the purpose of elevating our consciousness and pointing us back towards the spiritual and helping us to transcend the physical and material can be seen to mirror our own experience in this human incarnation. We descend from the realm of spirit into material and physical vehicles, with the purpose of somehow transforming and transcending and returning with new understanding, and elevating and "dragging along" and reawakening the spiritual which is hidden inside the material world in the process.

This esoteric understanding of the Nights is supported by an aspect of the tales that has rarely, if ever, been explored, and that is the fact that -- like the ancient sacred scriptures and mythologies of the human race, they frequently employ clear celestial metaphor, using the exact same system which underlies other myths the world over.

To demonstrate, I will here offer just two of the many hundreds of possible examples. However, at the request of an extremely insightful and astute correspondent who wrote to me about these interpretations, I will give my interpretation of the constellations underlying these two episodes from the Nights in a future installment of this blog in a couple of days -- enabling you, gentle reader, to work them out for yourself in the interim!

Feel free to post or message your "celestial interpretations" of these two passages, naming the constellations that you believe correspond to each important character (or object, in the case of the second of the two episodes). 

Currently, the best places to post (or message, if you wish to be more private and less public) your interpretations are either Twitter (yes, you can fit your explanation in a single tweet or two -- you can just say "X = this constellation; Y = that one") or Facebook.  If neither Twitter nor Facebook work for you, send me a message on one of those two channels and suggest a better place to communicate. I will look forward to reading your submissions, if you wish to post them, and then I will put up my own interpretations (which I have already formulated for myself -- obviously I'm not going to offer examples which I am not already fairly confident contain clear celestial correspondences which people can work out: that wouldn't be very helpful).

To get yourself warmed up, feel free to check out the many examples of star myths and their explanations listed here. There is also a previous post which discusses many different constellations, with diagrams and descriptions of where to find them in the night sky.

Here are the two episodes from The Arabian Nights, as translated by Richard Francis Burton:

First episode: the adulterous affair that started the whole story.

Shah Zaman, the younger brother of King Shahryar, is invited to go visit his brother after many years of separation (in which each ruled their own domain with great "equity and fair-dealing," but as Zaman begins to go, he returns for something he forgot. Here is how he begins to describe what took place:
"Know then, O my brother," rejoined Shah Zaman, "that when thou sentest thy Wazir with the invitation to place myself between thy hands, I made ready and marched out of my city; but presently I minded me having left behind me in the palace a string of jewels intended as a gift to thee. I returned for it alone, and found my wife [. . .]. 9.
Finding his wife with another, he says, Shah Zaman "drew his scimitar and, cutting the two into four pieces with a single blow, left them on the carpet and returned presently to his camp without letting anyone know of what had happened" (5).

Can you determine which celestial inhabitants might correspond to Shah Zaman, his adulterous wife, her adulterous lover, his scimitar, and the string of jewels that he forgot to take with him?

Second episode: the Fisherman and the Jinni.

This is the first story in which a Jinni comes forth out of a lamp. There is a story prior to this one which features a Jinni (and a beautiful and formidable woman, who proceeds to exercise absolute power over both Shah Zaman and his brother King Shahryar), but that one strides up out of the ocean onto the shore, and does not emanate from an ancient lamp. The Tale of the Fisherman and the Jinni is presented as the very first tale Shahrazad tells to King Shahryar on her first night with him, and it is long and involved and contains many "stories within stories within stories," but the first part of the action involves an old fisherman and his wondrous catch. Listen as Shahrazad begins her tale:
It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that there was a Fisherman well stricken in years who had a wife and three children, and withal was of poor condition. Now it was his custom to cast his net every day four times, and no more. On a day he went forth about noontide to the sea shore, where he laid down his basket; and, tucking up his shirt and plunging into the water, made a cast with his net and waited till it settled to the bottom. Then he gathered the cords together and haled away at it, but found it weighty; and however much he drew it landwards, he could not pull it up; so he carried the ends ashore and drove a stake into the ground and made the net fast to it. Then he stripped and dived into the water all about the net, and left not off working hard until he had brought it up. He rejoiced thereat and, donning his clothes, went to the net, when he found in it a dead jackass which had torn the meshes. 25.
The Fisherman is grieved at this development, but he gets it clear of his net and casts again, but with similar results. After a great deal of effort, he gets the net in a second time: this time we are told "found he in it a large earthern pitcher which was full of sand and mud; and seeing this he was greatly troubled" (26). So he has another go, but only brings up "potsherds and broken glass" (26). 

Finally, he goes through the motions one last time, after first "raising his eyes heavenwards" and imploring "O my God! verily Thou wottest that I cast not my net each day save four times; the third is done and as yet Thou hast vouchsafed me nothing. So this time, O my God, deign give me my daily bread" (26). This time, we are told, he pulls up an old jar or lamp of yellow copper, with a seal stopping its mouth with a leaden cap. Removing the seal with great effort, we watch along with the Fisherman in amazement as:
presently there came forth from the jar a smoke which spired heavenwards into ether (wherat he again marveled with a mighty marvel), and which trailed along earth's surface till presently, having reached its full height, the thick vapour condensed, and became an Ifrit, huge of bulk, whose crest touched the clouds while his feet were on the ground. His head was as a dome, his hands like pitchforks, his legs long as masts and his mouth big as a cave; his teeth were like large stones, his nostrils ewers, his eyes two lamps and his look was fierce and lowering. Now when the fisherman saw the Ifrit his side muscles quivered, his teeth chattered, his spittle dried up and he became blind about what to do. 27.

Can you identify the net, the dead jackass, the "earthern pot," and the magic lamp? If so, you will probably be able to guess at who is likely to play the Fisherman in this tale. How about the smoke which pours from the lamp and spirals upwards? The Ifrit is a bit tricky, and could be one of a couple different figures, but you may want to give him a try as well.

Enjoy!






































image: Wikimedia commons (link).