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Ancient Gods and Falling Stars: this week on the Storyteller's Night Sky

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Designating stars by a Greek letter and the genitive form of parent constellation was developed in the 17th century. The alpha, beta, gamma and delta stars in Aquarius are all named for good fortune.

This week the Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower opens a window into the world of wishes when it peaks in the early morning hours around May 5th. The shower takes its name from the region of Aquarius, but it’s actually caused by the trail of stuff left by Comet Halley when it whizzes through our system.

The Eta star in Aquarius isn’t named, but it’s situated among a host of other stars that all have names referring to good fortune, like the alpha star in Aquarius, which has a name that means “The Luckiest One of the King.” The beta star has a name that means “Luckiest of the Lucky,” and the gamma star is the “Lucky Star of Hidden Things or Hiding-places.”

Then there’s the delta star in Aquarius, with the name Scheat, which means “a wish.” And that brings us back to the Meteor Shower, and the tradition of making wishes on falling stars.

It seems that this tradition derives from something described by the 2nd century Greek astronomer Claudius Ptolemy. Ptolemy is credited with describing how the gods caused the stars to fall because, out of curiosity or boredom, they occasionally peered down at the Earth from between the planetary spheres, and because of this, the stars could slip through the gaps, and fall earthward. This was an exceptional experience, and Ptolemy posited that since the gods were already looking our way at such a time, they would be more receptive to the wishes we make.

So get outside before dawn any clear morning this week, and cast your wishes to the stars, for they’re more bound to come true.

One of the best wishes that comes to mind for me is from Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice”:

I wish you all the joy that you can wish.”