The Mystery of the Perseid Meteor Shower: This Week on the Storyteller's Night Sky

Aug 6, 2018

The Perseid Meteor Shower is most active in mid-August, nine months after the constellation Perseus reaches its highest position in the night sky. Perseus with the head of Medusa by Benvenuto Cellini, bronze, c. 1554

The Perseid Meteor Shower reaches its peak just after New Moon this weekend, which means that if the weather cooperates, the conditions are ideal for a terrific show of falling stars.


You can see the meteors whizzing through the sky after 11 pm, once the constellation Perseus has mounted into the sky. This hero rises in the north east, carrying the severed head of the Medusa in his left hand as his trophy. 

  Medusa was born beautiful, but after trying to seduce Zeus, she was turned into a creature with snakes for hair that caused all those that looked on her to turn to stone. As the culture hero of a new age, Perseus had to slay her, which he did by positioning his polished shield so the Medusa would see her own reflection in it, which turned her to stone.  Then Perseus lopped off her head and mounted with it up into the sky, where we can see him still, as a constellation on the Milky Way.


The name Perseus means “of Zeus”. His mother was the mortal princess Danäe, who was locked in a brass vault in the earth because her father feared the prophecy that if she had a son, that boy would slay him. So he locked her up, never suspecting that Zeus would happen by, which he did, and by transforming himself into a shower of golden stars, Zeus rained down upon Danäe, impregnating her with Perseus.


This story that Perseus was born from a shower of golden stars was the way the ancients entered into the rhythmic harmony of the cosmos they saw around them. The constellation Perseus comes to its highest place in the sky every year in December; nine months later, his meteor shower occurs. Nine months is the natural rhythm of the human gestation, so if you cast your wishes to the falling stars of the Perseid meteors, you could ask yourself, like the ancients did, what was going on nine months ago that wants to be realized now?