The Nebra Sky Disc

January 16, 2013

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This mysterious disc is said to be the oldest known map of the heavens.

Two nights ago the stars sparkled so fiercely above our house. Jupiter was a perfect, tiny orange disc, suspended between bright burning Aldebaran, the Watcher of the East, and Orion. The Pleiades were easy to see, a cluster of stars like a lovely, glowing birthmark on the Bull’s shoulder.

The magic of the night set me thinking about the mysterious and beautiful bronze age Nebra Sky Disc, found in Germany just over a dozen years ago. It depicts the Pleiades, along with the crescent Moon and either the Sun or the Full Moon, and a spattering of golden dots which are probably stars. The exact meaning and use of this gorgeous artefact are the subject of debate among scholars. What is indisputable is that the Nebra Sky Disc is a testament to our complex relationship with the sky. It’s not about balls of gas, and lumps of rock and the end of time, it’s about what happens to the human mind when we contemplate the night sky.

Some scholars argue that the lower semi-circle on the disc is a solar boat ready to carry the Sun through the night sky. It seems certain that the semi-circles along the sides are accurate means of noting the solstices, so the disc is likely a timekeeper of some kind. It is certainly not a replica of the sky or an exact map but a re-imagining of it.

Crop circle of the Pleiades

If you lie out on a starry night and allow your imagination to expand up and outwards, what do you feel? It’s something like this for me. I feel infinitely small but also part of a huge magical living whole. I am filled with wonder.

Without light pollution, our ancestors had a greater intimacy with the night sky than we do. For them, knowledge of the canopy of stars and cycle of the Moon, would have been as straightforward as learning the alphabet is for us. The night sky is one of the great losses we’ve suffered with urbanisation.

But that sense of wonder must not have been so very different for that Celtic ancestor…

Stories are told about the stars in all cultures. The Pleiades are lost boys in some Native American stories; they are chicks with a hen; in China they are the hairy head of a tiger, they are the cutters. The theme of seven sisters does, however, seem to occur across the globe – from Polynesia to Europe.

Bougereau: The Lost Pleiade or
any excuse to
paint another naked lady

Although with the naked eye you see the Pleiades in Taurus, because of the way the Earth and sky have changed relationships since ancient times, they are counted at 0° Gemini in your ephemeris or on
your chart.

Their reputation is lousy in astrology: weeping, blindness, despair, and being a bit dodgy. These negative associations may be because the Pleiades are believed to have feminine energy, which is usually viewed with deep suspicion by ancient astrological writers. But my Moon is within orb of the Pleiades and according to Lilly (I recall but ought to check) when one of the Lights in near the weeping sisters, you may suffer blindness in one eye. I have always had very poor eyesight in my left eye.

Happily that does not prevent me from seeing the canopy of the heavens with my right eye.

If you’re interested in stars and astrology, I recommend this book by Bernadette Brady.

archaeology, astronomy, constellations, Fixed Stars

4 comments

Anonymous said:

interesting post : starting to see my family in a different light. I am one of 7 sisters (and 2 brothers). i have no lights at 0 Gemini.
checked my mother’s horoscope: she has no lights at 0 Gemini, but she does have Moon/Moon’s Nodes at 0 sagittarius square Uranus at 0 Pisces.. Wonder which sister I might be!
best regards – mimi

Reply

Christina said:

Wow – that is an extremely cool thought. The Pleiades were in late Taurus until quite recently.

Reply

Isy Aweigh said:

I remember camping on the shores of the Red Sea 35 years ago, long before the hotels and shopping centers went up. I lay awake for hours, too gobsmacked by the sky to grow tired. The velvet night looked miles thick, and the stars seemed not like points of light but as if something had drilled uncannily precise holes in that miles-thick darkness and, at the bottom of those holes, lights of shattering brightness were laid. I was sure that, if I could put my eye up to one of those holes, the direct brilliance of the mostly-concealed light would be blinding.

I tried to write a poem about it, but all that remains is the single line, “and stars drilled light-wells in the sky.” The rest was forgettable and is forgotten.

Wherever I go in the world, if I can get one good look at the stars, I never feel too lonely.

Reply

Christina said:

Yeah but that one line is good.

Also, I think travellers must have always felt that sense of home and more so in the days before light pollution.

Reply

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