Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Tales of the world (II)

Today I'm coming to you about another story about the stars! (ehehehe), this one is an Australian one.

The seven sisters

Once upon a time there were seven very pretty hunter sisters. They were called Meamei and they all had long black hair and bright bodies due to the icicles they had on their skin. They were like a gulp of icy water in the hot country they lived.

They never joined any other groups while hunting: in spite of this, there was a family of brothers called Berai-Berai, who admired the beauty of the sisters and wanted to marry them. The Berai-Berai were honey hunter experts and they would often leave sweet beehives outside the Meamei's campsite.
The lovely girls would eat, giggling, but didn't even want to hear about their admirers when they talked about marriage.

Nevertheless, they had an even more dangerous wooer. Wurrunnah, the Scorching Ancestor, who set up a trap and captured them. But even for him, the seven strong hunters were too difficult to control, so he took five and deposited them on the sky. He kept two, and he tried to melt their icicles, but the only thing he accomplished was to put out their own fire.

After fighting with all their might, the two sisters escaped the claws of Murrunnah and reunited with the others on the sky. But if you look at the Pleiades, which is in what the Meamei turned, you'll see that there are two of them who don't shine as bright as the others do. They are the two sisters whose light was attenuated by Wurrunah's embrace.

The Berai-Berai were bereaved at the loss of the precious Meamei and didn't even want to consider the possibility of marrying any other girls. They didn't want to eat, and little by little they would languish while contemplating the seven stars. After their death, the spirits took pity on them and now you can also see the boys up in the sky. On the north they are known as the belt and the sword of Orion, but the Australian aboriginals call them Berai-Berai.

The Berai-Berai still go hunt honey among the stars and the Meamei sing nocturnal songs for them from their campsite. When it is cold, some break little pieces of ice from their bodies and throw them at the Earth. When the aboriginals see the frost in the morning they know that the Meamei haven't forgotten about them. And when there's thunder, they say that the Meamei jump in the water, while they play betting who makes the most noise when falling. Then they know that the rain is coming.

The end.

Behind the story

Image credit: Marco Lorenzi

Perhaps the most famous star cluster on the sky, the Pleiades are one of the clusters that make up the constellation Taurus and can be seen without binoculars from even the depths of a light-polluted city. Also known as the Seven Sisters and M45, the Pleiades is one of the brightest and closest open clusters. The Pleiades contains over 3000 stars, is about 400 light years away, and only 13 light years across. Quite evident in the above photograph are the blue reflection nebulae that surround the brighter cluster stars. Low mass, faint, brown dwarfs have also been found in the Pleiades.

The Pleiades are a prominent sight in winter in the Northern Hemisphere, and have been known since antiquity to cultures all around the world, including the Celts, Māori, Aboriginal Australians, the Persians, the Arabs (known as Thurayya), the Chinese, the Japanese, the Maya, the Aztec, the Sioux and Cherokee. 

This celestial entity has several meanings in different cultures and traditions. There are so many points of view! Which come to show how different we all are. Here are some:

  • In Hinduism, the Pleiades are known as Krittika and are associated with the war-god Kartikeya (also known as Murugan or Skanda), who derives his name from them. The god is raised by the six Krittika sisters, also known as the Matrikas.
Lost Pleiad (1884) by William-Adolphe Bouguereau.

  • In Greek mythology, The Pleiades, companions of Artemis (sister of Apollo, goddess of hunting, always accompanied with a deer, a bow and some arrows), were the seven daughters of the titan Atlas  (the primordial Titan who held up the sky. He is also the titan of astronomy and navigation) and the sea-nymph Pleione. The Pleiades were nymphs in the train of Artemis, and together with the seven Hyades were called the Atlantides, Dodonides, or Nysiades, nursemaids and teachers to the infant Bacchus (the god of theatre, wine and ritual madness). 
Their story goes as this:After Atlas was forced to carry the heavens on his shoulders,Orionbegan to pursue all of the Pleiades, and Zeus transformed them first into doves, and then into stars to comfort their father. The constellation of Orion is said to still pursue them across the night sky.

  • In Japan, the Pleiades are known as 昴 Subaru which means "coming together" or cluster in Japanese, and have given their name to the car manufacturer whose logo incorporates six stars to represent the five companies that merged into one.

This is the logo

  • Cheyenne myth "The Girl Who Married a Dog", states that the group of seven stars known as the Pleiades originated from seven puppies which a Cheyenne chief's daughter gave birth to after mysteriously being visited by a dog in human form to whom she vowed "Wherever you go, I go".

  • Cherokee myth indicates that seven boys who would not do their ceremonial chores and wanted only to play, ran around and around the ceremonial ball court in a circle, and rose up into the sky. Only six of the boys made it to the sky; the seventh was caught by his mother and fell to the ground with such force that he sank into the ground. A pine tree grew over his resting place.

  • In Thailand the Pleiades are known as Dao Luk Kai or the "Chick Stars", from a Thai folk tale. The story tells that a poor elderly couple who lived in a forest had raised a family of chickens: a mother hen and her six (or alternately seven) chicks. One day a monk arrived at the couple's home during his Dhutanga journey. Worried that they had no suitable food to offer him, the elderly couple contemplated cooking the mother hen. The hen overheard the conversation, and rushed back to the coop to say farewell to her children. She told them to take care of themselves, and that her death would repay the kindness of the elderly couple, who had taken care of all of them for so long. As the mother hen's feathers were being burned over a fire, the chicks threw themselves into fire in order to die along with their mother. The deity, impressed by and in remembrance of their love, immortalized the seven chickens as the stars of the Pleiades. In tellings of the story in which there were only six chicks, the mother is included, but often includes only the seven chicks.

  • Surprisingly, on a similar note, to the Vikings (Norse mythology), the Pleiades were Freyja's (a goddess) hens, and their name in many old European languages compares them to a hen with chicks.

Curiosity! A bronze disk, 1600 BC, from Nebra, Germany, is one of the oldest known representations of the cosmos. The Pleiades are top right!

The name

The name of the Pleiades comes from Ancient Greek. It probably derives from plein ('to sail') because of the cluster's importance in delimiting the sailing season in the Mediterranean SeaHowever, the name was later mythologised as the name of seven divine sisters, whose name was imagined to derive from that of their mother Pleione, effectively meaning 'daughters of Pleione'. However, in reality the name of the star-cluster almost certainly came first, and Pleione was invented to explain it.
The Pleiades (1885) by the Symbolist painter Elihu Vedder

A map of the Pleiades

It's curious how everyone interprets things their own different or similar way, right? We all see things differently and that's so enriching as long as we don't put others down just for having other ideas, it's awesome.

That's it for today, not sure what else to say!

See you,


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