When the North Star slipped away from the dragon: this week on The Storyteller's Night Sky

Oct 8, 2018

For first Aurelius lived and fought and died, And after him King Uther fought and died, But either failed to make the kingdom one. And after these King Arthur for a space, And through the puissance of his Table Round, Drew all their petty princedoms under him, Their king and head, and made a realm, and reigned. ~Tennyson, "The Coming of King Arthur"

This week the dragon constellation Draco is host to a fickle meteor shower; thousands of years ago, it was host to the North Star. In between then and now, it lent itself to origination myths of King Arthur.

The constellation Draco can be seen every night snaking along between the bears, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. There is evidence from the ancient Egyptian era that the third star in the Dragon’s tail, named Thuban, was once the North Star. Thuban was referred to as the “Life of Heaven” and the “highest seat among the heavenly host”. 

The constellation Draco can be seen every night snaking along between the bears, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. There is evidence from the ancient Egyptian era that the third star in the Dragon’s tail, named Thuban, was once the North Star. Thuban was referred to as the “Life of Heaven” and the “highest seat among the heavenly host”. 

The reason the North Star changes overtime is that the Earth is wobbling on its axis, which results in the fact that the point we regard as north among the stars gradually shifts over time. 

In this season, when the nights get longer and the damp autumn air is thick with hazy veils of mist, it’s easy to imagine tales of King Arthur’s father, Uther Pendragon, especially in relation to the constellation of the dragon. 

The legend is that Uther Pendragon fell in love with the wife of one of his men.  In order to win her, Uther had the great magician Merlin transform him into the likeness of her husband. Then, after Merlin cast a misty fog about the castle where she was hidden, Uther went there and seduced her, and so she conceived Arthur.  But just as the North Star Thuban slipped away from the dragon’s tail in ancient times to the star Polaris in the tail of the Bear in our era, so kingship slipped away from Uther Pendragon to his son, Arthur.

When you find the North Star on Autumn nights, think on King Arthur, who eventually had to strike through the trickery and mist cast by his father, so he could find his own true north, the same way all stargazers do when they slip past the dragon’s tail to find the North Star now. But tread softly as you go, because this is the season when the dragon stirs!