Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Procession of the gods, part two

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

The preceding post contained some discussion and encouragement to go out and observe the dazzling lineup of planets now appearing like fairly closely-strung jewels along a beautiful necklace that brings all five visible planets into view in the pre-dawn sky.

At the time of that publication, Mercury was still too close to the sun to really be visible prior to sunrise (that post explained why we always have to look fairly close to the sun in order to see Mercury, visible either just ahead of the sun before sunrise, or just behind the sun after sunset). Now, however, as the swift-footed Messenger of the Gods speeds on his course around the sun, he is reaching the "corner" on his track that brings his "elongation" or distance from the sun as seen by an observer on earth to an angle that is making this small orange-red planet increasingly visible in the morning hours before sunrise (see the diagram in the previous post linked above to see how Mercury's swift path is now taking him to the point of "rounding the corner" where the planet is easiest to see).

In addition to Mercury's becoming visible, another goddess has also entered the picture: the Moon, which is now just passing the point of Full Moon and is presently positioned at the "head of the procession" in the sky, and will begin a stately walk all the way down the line to pass each of the planets in turn.

This will happen because the Moon's orbit around our earth makes her "lose ground" on the sun on each successive night as we go through the month, so that the sun seems to "gain on" the Moon and "pass up the Moon" or "lap the Moon" each month at point of New Moon.

Because of this phenomenon -- of the Moon being "caught" or "passed" each month by the sun, the Moon will be seen to be further and further east at the same time on each successive night, which means that as you go out to observe the five visible planets now lined up in fairly close array (beginning with Jupiter, then Mars, then Saturn, Venus, and Mercury just ahead of the sun), the Moon will be moving along this line beginning with Jupiter and moving towards the rising sun, passing them each in turn.

Right now, the Moon is ahead of Jupiter. On successive nights, she will pass by the rest of them, waning further and further into a crescent until the point of New Moon:

The image above shows the situation at present (note the date-time bar at the bottom right). The nearly-full Moon is just east of Regulus (we are facing South from a location in the northern hemisphere) and ahead of (west of) Jupiter. As we go along at the same time each night (this is actually early morning, prior to sunrise) the Moon will pass by Jupiter, then Mars, then Saturn (already waning to a sliver) and then Venus as New Moon arrives:

Above is an image from before dawn on the 28th of January. The Moon has proceeded to walk past Jupiter (to the east of Jupiter). The Moon is orbiting along a path that takes her towards the sun as she hurtles around the earth (the Moon is flying from right to left on her orbit, as we look at the above image).

Below is an image from before dawn on February 1 -- as the waning Moon passes the planet Mars:

And one more image below, as the Moon (now a sliver) passes just above Saturn on the 3rd of February. Note that the time is slightly later -- allowing Venus and Mercury to both rise well above the eastern horizon before the sun pops up:

So, we can now say that the "procession of the gods" which was discussed in the previous post has grown by two additional deities: Hermes or Mercury (previously not visible prior to sunrise, but now visible if you have a clear view of the eastern horizon, and becoming more and more visible as we move into February) and the Moon, anciently associated with Artemis the twin sister of Apollo (Apollo being associated with the sun, although these relationships and associations were somewhat complicated).

If you have the opportunity to go observe this beautiful and awe-inspiring lineup, and watch as the Moon moves through the procession towards the sun, then it is worth contemplating as you do so some of the characteristics anciently associated with Artemis. In particular, she is a goddess who is supremely devoted to the protection of women and children. She is also closely associated with childbirth and was anciently understood to be the one who permits and presides over every birth.

In the Orphic Hymn number 36, "To Artemis," these aspects of the goddess are expressly evoked:

Hear me, O queen,
Zeus' daughter of many names,
Titanic and Bacchic,
revered, renowned archer,
torch-bearing goddess bringing light to all,
Diktynna, helper at childbirth,
you help women in labor,
though you know not what labor is.
[. . .]
Orthia, goddess of swift birth,
you are a nurturer of mortal youths,
immortal and yet of this earth [. . .]
come, dear goddess,
as savior to all the initiates,
accessible to all, bringing forth
the beautiful fruit of the earth,
lovely peace,
and fair-tressed health.
May you dispatch diseases and pain
to the peaks of the mountains.
translation from the excellent edition by Professor Apostolos N. Athanassakis.

The unwavering consistency with which the goddess can be seen to protect women and children in the ancient sacred myths should cause us to consider how much importance we ascribe to this same consideration.

In particular, when we see the degree to which women and children even (or especially) in the present modern global economy are exploited to provide sweatshop labor in the making of "inexpensive" clothing and many other goods (stories of which are reported again and again through the years, without ever seeming to make much difference -- see for instance here, here, and here among dozens and dozens of others along the same lines), we should ask ourselves why we are not as solicitous and as fiercely devoted to the protection of women and children as the goddess Artemis encourages (and admonishes) us to be.