Betelgeuse and the Shoulders of Giants: this week on the Storyteller's Night Sky

Jan 27, 2020

The giant star Betelgeuse in the shoulder region of the constellation Orion is a variable star that has been known to dim in the past, still, its recent behavior has astronomers puzzled.

Have you been wondering about the news regarding the star Betelgeuse and how it’s inexplicably dimming? Betelgeuse defines the right shoulder of the constellation Orion, a giant in the night sky and in humanity’s cultural history, ranging from associations with the ancient Egyptian God of the Dead to the Old Testament Book of Job to the fairy tale of Jack and the Beanstalk.

The dimming of Betelgeuse brings to mind the “shoulders of giants,” and of Atlas, who was described in Homer’s “Odyssey” as ‘deadly-minded,’ as knowing the depths of all the seas, and as holding the pillars far out in the Atlantic Ocean which hold the heavens and earth apart.

The Ancient Greeks also described how Atlas placed these pillars on the shoulders of the hero Hercules during his 11th Labor to get the golden apples. As with many myths, this was one of preparation, pointing to a time when the wisdom borne on the shoulders of giants would eventually fall to mortal human beings to bear.

This wisdom was of the stars, and it was borne aloft by the feminine in Ancient Egyptian art, then by the masculine for the Ancient Greeks. These divine beings then gave way to the celestial mechanics of Isaac Newton until our own age, when we live rather remotely from the idea that there are divine beings populating the environment, be it celestial or terrestrial, still, even Newton admitted: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.

There’s a great deal in the cultural sphere that points to an eventual time when human beings must “shoulder the burdens” that were previously held on their behalf by the divine.

Is Betelgeuse signaling that the time is now?