This weekend is the time of year when, at least in the US, much attention becomes riveted to screens in family rooms and living rooms in homes around the nation, as people gather together to watch the Super Bowl. The fact that nearly as much attention and discussion will be lavished upon the commercials and advertisements as will be devoted to analyzing the game over the next few days following the event only goes to show that the entire spectacle in some sense can be seen as a gargantuan commercial or advertisement of some sort (the question of "an advertisement for what?" will be left to the reader to contemplate, or not, as desired).
Much attention will also be devoted to the size of the screens around which people will gather -- and new and larger and more densely-pixelated (more densely-megapixelated) screens will be purchased or rented for the occasion.
But however wonderful the screens we hang on our walls or carry around in our pockets and purses become, through the continued and accelerating onrush of technology, they will never (it seems safe to declare) become actually infinite in size or depth.
And yet, we have at our disposal on nearly every clear night a "big screen" of truly unsurpassed wonderfulness, and one which is in fact infinite, incapable of being measured or bounded with dimensions, which we can go outside and enjoy at virtually no cost, if it is at all possible to do so.
That infinite screen, of course, is the night sky -- the inky depths of space containing the countless glittering stars, most of which are also enormous suns hurtling along inside our own massive whirlpool of a galaxy, and some of which are not stars at all but galaxies in their own right, located at almost-inconceivable distances from our own.
When we stare up into the heavens at night, we are truly staring into infinity. And that is one reason why, as much benefit as we may derive from what we see on the various screens which surround us in our daily life, we should also endeavor -- as much as it is possible for us to do so -- to devote some time to watching the infinitely-big theater which plays out over our heads each and every clear night of the year.
Presently, there is a special array of stars and constellations making their way across that glorious stage. In fact, at this time of year in the time period around midnight, we can look up and see the layout of the stars which pioneering astro-theologian Robert Taylor believed to have been the foundation for the Christmas story of the birth in the manger.
On pages 43 and 44 of the collection of his lectures published under the title Devil's Pulpit, he explains that the sun is, metaphorically speaking, described in ancient myth as being "born" at the midnight hour three days after winter solstice, when it finally begins to ascend back towards the top of its annual path, from the lowest point that it marks at winter solstice. And the zodiac constellation that was at the very top of the arc at the midnight hour on that special night two thousand years ago would have been the zodiac constellation containing a special cluster of stars known as the Beehive Cluster, but also known in ancient times as Praesepe, or "the Manger."
Thus the sun, which is located at the exact other side of our planet when we look out to the top of the ecliptic band of the zodiac at the midnight hour, could be said to be "born" at the moment that the Manger was crossing that special summit-point on the zodiac's arc at midnight three days after winter solstice (midnight on December 24th).
The ages-long motion of precession (the phenomenon which causes the "precession of the equinoxes") acts to "delay" the background of stars from reaching the same point in the heavens on any selected day and time from one year to the next. In other words, if we are accustomed to seeing a certain star at the transit-point (the top of its arc) on a certain day and time each year (such as midnight on December 24th), the slow but inexorable motion of precession will delay its arrival at that point over the years -- but by such a tiny degree that it will only be delayed by one degree in 71.6 years.
That means that if a certain star is located at transit (straight up from due south on our planet, if we are in the northern hemisphere, or crossing the imaginary line in the sky that arcs up from due south and over our heads through the north celestial pole and back down into the horizon at due north) at a certain specific time on the same date each year, it will be only one degree "delayed" from reaching that point on the same date at the same time, seventy-one-plus years later. More on this phenomenon is discussed in this previous post, and in several other places on the web.
Because of this delaying action, and the passage of thousands of years, the situation in the sky that prevailed at midnight on December 24th thousands of years ago has been "delayed" and would not be visible now on that date in the same way that it was back then. But you can go outside now at the beginning of February and see the sky at midnight with the constellations in their places, as Robert Taylor believes they were arranged for the turnaround of the sun's path after the three-day "pause" at the winter solstice, back when the ancient texts describing the birth in the manger were imparted to humanity.
You can find the beautiful Beehive Cluster in the constellation of Cancer the Crab at or near its transit-point (its highest point on its arc across the sky) right around midnight at this time of year. As you do so, you can also look to the west and see Orion and his three belt-stars (the "Three Kings") sinking down into the western horizon (ahead of them, more easily seen in the hours before midnight, you can see the glorious Pleiades). And you can look to the east and see the rising form of Virgo the Virgin, made more easy to locate by the presence of mighty Jupiter near the top of her head, and her outstretched arm marked by the star Vindemiatrix, which can be shown to have been envisioned as a divine child sitting in her lap in more than one ancient myth-system.
The situation at or near midnight at this time of year is diagrammed for you in the star-chart above, which is depicted for an observer in the northern hemisphere at about 35.6N latitude, looking towards the south (east thus being to the left and west to the right as we look at the image). If you want to locate the dazzling Beehive (and I highly recommend you give it a try, if it is at all possible for you to do so), the best way to find it is to look between the majestic head of Leo the Lion and the parallel forms of Gemini the Twins.
There are some previous posts which go into more detail on locating the Beehive: this one from 2014 goes into pretty extensive detail. The image above shows you the location of Gemini from Orion, which you should not have too much trouble in locating, and the form of Leo the Lion can be found by looking for the brilliant orb of Jupiter in the east part of the sky. The distance in the heavens between the mouth of Leo and the heads of the Twins is not very great: in that space between them is the very dim form of Cancer the Crab, and in the head of the Crab is the Beehive. You will almost see it "by intuition" with your naked eye, it is so faint -- but you should be able to "intuit" its presence in that space, if you are in an area that is dark enough. You will need a pretty dark location in order to see it (those living in big cities will have to drive away from the city lights, if that is possible to do for you).
I believe that the best way to try to see these heavenly objects is actually to lie down on your back, either on the ground or on a lawn chair: looking up at them while standing, especially if looking for the more difficult-to-spot objects, is pretty uncomfortable. The Beehive is absolutely wonderful to look at through binoculars, but it's not fun to try to do that when standing. Lie down and give yourself the best chance to see it and really enjoy it through your binoculars with your head supported by the ground beneath you. The best way to do it is to see it (or "intuit it") with your naked eye, and then look at that spot where you think you see it using the binoculars.
The section of the sky in front of the muzzle of the Lion which contains the Beehive is shown in an enlarged screen-shot, below:
If you are pretty sure of which stars you are looking at in the above representation, you may in fact be able to make out the tiny but gorgeous little cluster of stars that is the Beehive. It's about this size to the naked eye, in my experience. You may despair of seeing it in the night sky after reading that previous sentence, but don't! I believe that, given a clear night and a dark enough location, you may be able to perceive its location if you can find Leo and Gemini and look between them for a faint "blur" of stars, and then train your binoculars where you believe you see that "blur."
Below is the same image shown just above, only with the stars labeled: these are the primary landmarks for you to find the Beehive in the sky:
Even if you have seen the Beehive many times before, going out and looking at it is well worth it, whenever you are able to do so, in my opinion. I personally can look at the Beehive for long periods of time without any loss of fascination and wonder -- it is such a dazzling cluster of heavenly bodies.
Additionally, as mentioned above, you should also be able to see the Pleiades, sinking down towards the west, and from the same point on the ground where you are lying on your back to look at the Beehive (or the same lawn-chair), without really having to get up and move. Just train your eyes to the west and follow the line of Orion's unmistakeable belt of stars. Looking at the Pleiades through binoculars is similarly mesmerizing as is looking at the Beehive.
In addition to being an infinite "big screen," the heavens also point us towards the Infinite World of the spirit. The ancient myths all use the stars and the motions of the constellations in the cycles of the heavens as metaphors to convey to us truths about the Infinite Realm: the realm of spirit, the realm of the gods. It is no accident that they do so: when we look at the sky, we look into the infinite -- and the spirit realm is in fact in-finite, without material measurements or boundaries, as is the human soul.
The ancient wisdom imparted to the human race in all the different myths and sacred traditions from around the world always teaches that we have at all times and circumstances an inner connection to the infinite.
The outstretched or "upraised" arms of the constellation Cancer the Crab, in fact, were (in the world's ancient myth-systems) symbolic of the upraised spirit-aspect of our dual material-spiritual nature. More on this aspect of Cancer the Crab and the upraised arms can be found in previous discussions here and here, for instance.
The act of elevating the spirit-consciousness in ourselves and others -- the awareness (that is) of the fact that we are not "mere matter" or "mere animals" but that we have an immaterial and infinite aspect, as indeed does the entire cosmos around us -- is inherent in the concept of blessing, upon which the world's ancient texts and traditions place a tremendous amount of importance.
The opposite action, of denying or attempting to "beat down" the awareness of this spiritual aspect in ourselves and others -- falsely trying to reduce a spiritual being into an "object" or a "brute beast" -- is accurately described as cursing.
Contemplating the stars, and the infinite heavens above (it is safe to say) can and does help us in perceiving the infinite and spiritual aspect in ourselves and in the entire universe around us.
Time spent on all the "other kinds" of screens (it is also safe to say) does not always do so -- and can in fact point us in the opposite direction, which is actually a false direction (to the extent that it denies the reality of our infinite and spiritual nature, and the infinite and spiritual aspect of the universe around us).
This is not to say that the material found on the "non-infinite" screens of the world is always debasing, or that it is never spiritually uplifting. That is actually not true at all (in fact, you're most likely reading this little essay on a screen, somewhere in the world).
But, as wonderful as all the other screens on earth might be, we should certainly try to devote some time to contemplating and enjoying that infinitely wonderful heavenly realm which is spread out over our heads, each and every night, if (as said before) it is at all possible for us to do so.
I sincerely hope that doing so will be a blessing to you.