Ditties in the sky: This week on the Storyteller's Night Sky

Oct 30, 2017

The Milky Way can be seen arcing straight overhead in November, where we find the constellation Cassiopeia, the queen, nearly at the zenith.

Cassiopeia looks very much like a wide version of the letter “W”, or, if you don’t mind it seeming a little crooked, you can imagine Cassiopeia looks like a set of stairs. To the west of Cassiopeia and also along the Milky Way, Cygnus the Swan appears to be diving toward the horizon, and between them, as though falling through the sky there, is the constellation Cepheus, usually known as the King.

If we imagine Cepheus not as the King, but as an old man, then this whimsical Mother Goose ditty starts to emerge in the picture overhead, like this:

Goosey Goosey Gander, whither dost though wander? Upstairs and downstairs in my lady’s chamber. There I met an old man who wouldn’t say his prayers. I took him by the left leg and threw him down the stairs!

The name Mother Goose is a title that refers to a storyteller of a particular character~not one that wears an old bonnet and rides a goose, but one who knows the sacred mysteries of other worlds. 

One of the most prominent places this title first appears in print is in the 17th century manuscript of Charles Perrault, as the subtitle to his “Tales of the Past with Morals~the Tales of Mother Goose”. Charles Perrault is the father of the fairy tale genre of literature, and he lived at an interesting time when things got really cold because the Sun exhibited a remarkable change in its activity. This period was later referred to as the “Maunder Minimum”, a nearly 70-year cycle when there were very few sunspots on the Sun’s surface. It’s ironic that this period of minimal Sun activity coincided almost exactly with the reign of the French King Louis XIV, who might have been the old man of our ditty, but was instead known as the “Sun King.”