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Every Monday morning at 6:49 and 8:49, IPR News Radio looks into the night sky with Mary Stewart Adams, former Program Director and founder of the International Dark Sky Park at the Headlands, who has been telling stories of the night sky on IPR since 2013.

Mars' Retrograde Whisks Away Summer's Princess: this week on the Storyteller's Night Sky

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As we turn toward the final weeks of the season, my imagination as a star lore historian turns to the German folk tale of the mischievous gnome Rübezahl, who sought to entrap Summer’s beautiful princess and keep her in his love palace beneath the Earth forever.

The gnome Rübezahl was lord over a vast under-world beneath the mountains, where he had endless treasure chambers and a host of gnomes to build strong barriers to hold back the fiery rivers of the Earth’s heart; some had scalding vapors to change dull stones into precious metal; others were hard at work filling every cranny of the rocks with diamonds and rubies ~ for Rübezahl loved all pretty things.  

This week I imagine that Rübezahl is the planet Mars, which begins its once-every-two-years retrograde on Wednesday. This means Mars will swing closer to Earth than at other times, gaining in brightness as it draws near. Like Rübezahl, we can imagine Mars is drawing near to see what the humans are doing on his mountaintop, but like the gnome in our story, he seeks to whisk away a beautiful princess, Venus, the morning star.

In the tale, Rübezahl falls so hopelessly in love that he masterminds all kinds of amusements to keep the princess happy in the underworld, even transforming all the root vegetables into her playmates.

But what he didn’t realize was that his princess was in love with a human prince, and her love proved stronger than his gnomish tricks, just as Summer’s warmth eventually wins out over the dark cold of the coming Winter.

In this transitional season, it pays to be mindful that Summer’s warmth and beauty are placed in our hands, and we must beware, lest they get whisked away to the underworld, never to return.

Rübezahl, from Andrew Lang's Brown Fairy Book.