Dark Sky Park: December's New Moon
IPR: ISON has been all the rage of late, but what else can we look for in the night sky and its stories this week?
MARY: The December New Moon arrives Tuesday, December 2nd. This is considered the beginning of the phase, and marks the onset of a period of growth...as the Moon grows in brightness, then so grows those things which we associate with 'moon'.
IPR: And what story is connected with December's New Moon?
MARY: There's a wonderful book about the stories of the people native to the Great Lakes region called "Star Songs and Water Spirits" that was put together by Victoria Brehm, and in there she includes a beautiful story about the origin of the star cluster known as the Pleiades. The Pleiades are the most storied about group of stars in the sky, and they come to their highest place in their journey through the night during the month of December. Right now they can be seen rising in the East after sunset, before the mighty hunter Orion. They mark the shoulder region of the constellation Taurus, the Bull.
Before using calendars to figure out what day it was, human beings used what we could call 'the book of nature', and when Pleiades came to the highest place in its nighttime trek, then that meant something. In the Great Lakes region, it meant that it was time for the sacred celebration of the new year.
IPR: Can you tell us why?
The story is that the youth of the tribe were upset at not being included in the ceremonial gathering of the elders, so they planned their own gathering, during which they intended to imitate the rites and ceremonies of the elders, only they didn't have all the essential pieces. One was to bring food, one was to bring offering, another was to bring song...but only the chief's son brought something, and that was fire. So they built a fire and began to dance around it, and as they danced, their feet began to lift off the Earth. Just at that moment, the mother of the chief's son discovered that he was not in his bed where he should be, and so it was discovered all throughout the village~all the children had gone.
The elders heard singing, and followed the sound to the place where they saw the children, now circling high in the air above the fire. Only the chief's son looked back, and when he did, he fell to the ground and disappeared, while all the others ascended into the realm of the stars. As the adults stood in wonder, a mighty voice spoke, and said that they should not look with sadness upon what had happened, rather, these children, who now became the star cluster we know as the Pleiades, would mark out for them the time for celebrating the new year, and that this time would occur each year, five sleeps after the New Moon that occurs when Pleiades is highest in the sky.
IPR: So New Year by this calculation will occur five sleeps after Tuesday's New Moon?
MARY: Right. This year, the New Moon closest to the peak of Pleiades is December 2nd, and New Year will be 'five sleeps' later, which will be December 7 in the Gregorian calendar. And be sure you don't overlook your dreaming, because the sleep factor in the story is essential, because it is in this space of sleep and dream where the mysteries of what's coming can first begin to show itself.