Dark Sky Park: The Rod Of Aesculapius

Nov 21, 2013

The rod of Aesculapius

IPR: According to the astronomy community Comet ISON is brightening to naked eye visibility but now it is coming closer to the Sun making it more difficult to see. What has been your experience with ISON?

MARY: I haven't seen it yet, though I've been studying it from charts and maps. As a storyteller I'm interested, not only in the story of the people who discovered it, but in its place in history alongside other notable comets. Comets have always stirred a fascination in humanity because they do not obey the laws of the rest of the solar system. They have a certain freedom of movement that have been regarded as the heralds of sacred births and significant deaths among other things. In fact, the word comet is derived from the Greek and means "the long-haired star." In my research I found reference to a passage from the ancient poet Ovid who describes how the soul of Ceasar, after his murder, ascended to the heavenly spheres, the goddess Venus bearing him upwards stage-by-stage into the heavenly world. And there Ovid makes a reference to the soul of Ceasar, that he is as a comet "drawing its flaming hair after it."

IPR: What story or history-in-the-making are you finding relative to Comet ISON?

MARY: It's a bit of a mystery still, since we cannot always see the historically significant events taking place while we're living through them. But the rhythms of our celestial environment certainly seem to point our attention in a particular direction. At present the idea I am playing with has to do with ISON's position at perihelion, which is the place on its path where it will come closest to the Sun. This will happen onThursday, November 28 (Thanksgiving Day) at 2:40 pm EST.

If you look at the charts and maps of ISON's path it appears that it will meet the Sun against the region of the sky just between the star Antares at the heart of the Scorpion and the omega star in the constellation Ophiucus, the snake-bearer. This is an interesting region in the realm of mythology, sort of a "valley of the shadow of death" kind of place. Ophiucus is related to the first sacred priest-healer-doctor Aesculapius. This individual, who was a son of Apollo, was such a great healer and doctor that he could even bring the dead back into life. But this angered the god of the Underworld, whose realm is Scorpio. Hades/Pluto petitioned Zeus to put a stop to the work of Aesculapius because he was robbing him of his underworld fruits. This was especially threatening when Aesculapius sought to revive the mighty hunter Orion. So Zeus sent his thunderbolt to slay Aesculapius but to honor him he placed him in the sky as the mighty constellation Ophiucus, forever treading on the back of the Scorpion in the night sky.

You might remember that a couple years ago there was a lot of talk about Ophiucus as the 13th "hidden" constellation of the zodiac because, every year, the Sun appears to move through the foot region of Ophiucus when astrologers say it is actually moving through Scorpio. So there is a mystery around this region of the sky, a mystery that seems to have to do with forces of life and death and it's here in this region where ISON will have its meeting with the Sun.

IPR: Are we correct then, in sensing that this is something ominous?

MARY: No! It can be imagined as a celestial gesture that draws our attention to a certain thing. And if the stories handed down to us from the ancients are any indication, then it would seem there is need to attend to our understanding of life, death, life after death - touchy subjects, to be sure! But then, if we follow the further path of ISON, if it holds together through the "valley of the shadow of death," then it is expected to race on past Mercury and Saturn, through the constellation Ophiucus, into Hercules and eventually north through the region of the starry crown, which suggests a happily ever after all!