Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Twins in the west

As the moon continues to grow (wax) towards full moon (which occurs on May 10), its increasing light will make star-gazing and constellation-identifying more challenging. However, at present the moon is moving into the constellation of Leo the Lion and is roughly adjacent to the two "twin-stars" of Gemini -- Castor and Pollux -- making it very easy to identify them in the sky.

The star-chart above (which was made using the excellent open-source planetarium app Stellarium, available at, shows the sky on the night of May 3rd from the position of an observer in the northern hemisphere at about 35 north latitude. The direction of observation is towards the south and west, and in order to locate the Twins of Gemini you will want to direct your attention to the western horizon, where the two stars of Castor and Pollux will be fairly high in the sky and roughly equivalent in height above the western horizon.

In the diagram above, note that the western horizon is "wrapping" upwards towards the right which is why the "right-hand" head of the twins, Castor, appears slightly higher -- but that "wrapping" effect is there in order to indicate that this part of the horizon would be "wrapping" around you to the right, if  you were actually outside, and that you would thus have to turn slightly to your right if facing south, in order to face west. As you turned right, the horizon would be level in real life, and the "twin-stars" of Gemini would be roughly even in height relative to the western horizon.

You should have little difficulty locating the brightest stars of Gemini, Castor and Pollux. The brighter of the two, towards the east or left in the diagrams, is Pollux, while Castor is slightly dimmer (it is on the right or west). Below is a zoomed-in diagram of the section of the western sky containing the Twins:

Depending on the darkness of the sky in your area (and it will become more and more challenging as the moon waxes towards full, but then as it wanes again it will become easier) you may be able to make out the rest of the upright figures of the two Twins. They form two "parallel lines" coming down from the bright stars of their two heads, and their hands appear to be joined.

The stars marked with red arrows in the above diagram will be easiest to see, even as the moon becomes brighter and brighter. To the east (left in the diagram) and slightly below the twin-stars of Gemini will be the bright star Procyon, in Canis Minor (the "Little Dog"). To the west (right in the diagram) and also slightly below the level of Castor and Pollux will be the stars of Auriga the Charioteer. The brightest three stars of this constellation form a triangle and are marked by red arrows in the diagram above. The brightest star of Auriga is Capella -- forming the "eye" of the Charioteer's head, as envisioned in the constellation-outlining system of H. A. Rey.

As discussed in this previous post on the mythological traditions associated with the Twins, in many cultures there are myths in which one of a pair of mythological Twins is mortal, while the other is immortal. In the myth of Castor and Pollux (or Castor and Polydeuces), Castor is mortal while Polydeuces is immortal. 

This aspect of the myth, which carries an important esoteric message, can help you to remember which star (and which Twin) is which in the night sky. The star of the immortal Twin (Pollux) is brighter. Additionally, there is a trail of stars descending from the foot of the mortal twin (Castor) -- as if perhaps representing chains with which Castor is bound in the underworld. The motif of the Twins, of course, helps us to understand our own condition here in this incarnate life -- in which we are "bound" or "chained" within the realm of matter (the "lower realm" or the underworld), but in which we have access to our own "divine twin," as described in so many ancient myths around the world (see for instance the discussion in this previous post). 

There is a sacred story from the Tewa-speaking language groups of the Pueblo Native Americans, in which a young couple, just married, are so in love that they neglect all other duties among their people -- until the young woman suddenly becomes ill and dies. The young man, distraught, refuses to let her go -- and the story continues with the adventures of the living husband and undead bride until eventually the two are turned into the stars of Castor and Pollux, to chase each other forever across the sky. This story, and its numerous other celestial references, is discussed in more detail in Star Myths of the World, Volume One -- and I believe that it depicts very much the same truths about our incarnate condition contained in the myth of Castor and Pollux and in other similar "Gemini-related" Star Myths found in cultures around the world.

The bright stars that mark the heads of the heavenly Twins of the constellation Gemini were sometimes described in ancient myth as flames of fire which came down to rest above the heads of Castor and Polydeuces. In particular, during the Voyage of the Argonauts (in which Castor and Polydeuces participated, according to some ancient sources), there was a mighty storm with ferocious winds, but Orpheus -- who had been initiated into the mysteria of Samothrake or Samothrace -- offered prayers to the Great Gods of those mysteries (who also appear to have been associated with the Twins), and immediately the wind died down, and at the same time two flames descended over the heads of the Twin brothers on the ship, to the wonderment of all the others. 

The parallels between this ancient myth -- recorded by the historian Diodorus Siculus during the time period between about 60 BC and 30 BC -- and the events of Pentecost described in the text of the book of Acts in the New Testament of the Bible are unmistakable, as discussed in this post from 2015 which connects some of the aspects of Gemini with the traditions associated with the ancient feasts celebrated seven weeks after Passover and Easter.

All of these ancient myths, I believe, have important truths to convey to us, for our benefit in this incarnate life -- in which we ourselves have a "higher self" and a "lower self," and in which we ourselves can be said to be "cast adrift" upon a dangerous ocean (the "lower element" of water being a frequent mythological description of the material world, as opposed to the spiritual realm which is more closely associated with the "upper elements" of air and fire).

These ancient truths can come home to us in a personal way as we gaze upon the impressive sight of the constellation of Gemini standing in the western skies in the hours after sunset.

I hope that if it is possible for you to do so, you can take in the light from these stars in person, and further explore the many important teachings preserved in the myths surrounding the Twins.