When searching for constellations, a simple sweep of the internet using a search engine would swiftly lead us to something a little like the image below. You might have to squint if you’re reading / seeing this from a mobile device:
But surely it wasn’t just the Romans, Greeks and Scandinavians etc who stared up at the starry sky in ultimate and unlimited awe. I’d be pretty confident that every person from every tribe of every empire that ever existed would have looked up at the illusive shiny objects seen on clear nights.
Some believed that the world on which they stood was surrounded by a ball of light and between them was a pitch black mantle. This mantle was infested with tiny holes which the outside light could penetrate. Others believed that these lights in the sky were other worlds filled with other peoples.
Whatever people’s beliefs, all we know for sure nowadays is that they named them – especially when they made cool shapes!
I’ve already seen some wonderful things through the telescope I received for Christmas from Angharad – despite the minimal amount of hours I’ve managed to be blessed with clear skies!
Never have I witnessed the moon, lleuad / lloyr (or less commonly; llun) in Welsh, in such detail with my own eyes before. It was (and remains) strangely humbling to see the littering of craters that the earth’s only satellite has sacrificed to ensure the safety of our planet.
Here’s what my iPhone picked up through my telescope a few nights ago ↓:
Just like the moon, the eight planets that orbit our Sun have Welsh names – Mercher, Gwener, Daear, Mawrth, Iau, Sadwrn, Wranws and Neifion (& Pliwto). Similarly to the English language’s days of the week, some of the planets (and other extra-terrestrial bodies) in Welsh afford their names to the odd day. If you have any knowledge of any Romance and/or other Celtic languages, these translations will not be too alien to you:
- Dydd LLUN = Day [of the] MOON = Monday < Moon(‘s) Day
- Dydd MAWRTH = Day [of] MARS* = Tuesday
- Dydd MERCHER = Day [of] MERCURY = Wednesday
- Dydd IAU = Day [of] JUPITER = Thursday < Thor’s Day (Thor having direct links in Norse mythology with the largest planet in our Solar system. Also corresponds to Jove)
- Dydd GWENER = Day [of] VENUS = Friday
- Dydd SADWRN = Day [of] SATURN = Saturday < Saturn’s Day
- Dydd SUL = Day [of the] Sun / Sol = Sunday < Sun[‘s] Day
* Some may also find it cool that there’s a valley on Mars named MAWRTH VALLIS!
I’ve always had an interest in astrology and astronomy. This fact may have become mildly apparent in one of my previous blogs where I seem far too interested in the fact that a piece of gold that left our Solar System contains (or containED, depending on its current and largely unknown state) a recording of a few words in Welsh. So there we are, I like the stars etc. I mean, I was genuinely distraught when I found that after opting to read A level Physics in school, astrophysics had been discontinued from the syllabus.
However, this never hindered me in my interests. From locating Polaris using the Bears to seeking out Orion and his Belt, my interests have maintained my burning search to comprehend as best I can what’s above our tiny heads.
It was when pointing out some of the constellations to others that I was constantly saddened that the words were almost always of Latin, Greek or Norse origin. As a proud Celt, I wondered whether those who formerly called these Celtic lands their own had their own names in their own languages that survive today.
And, just as those constellations persist in our skies to this very day, as do the Celtic languages – and as do their constellations.
This article by the University of Glamorgan’s Martin Griffiths is a wonderful introduction into the characters of Celtic decent that occupy our night skies today. He also links in some connections with the characters’ original histories from the Mabiniogi(on), as I also intend to do below:
Celtic Constellation Equivalents
Perseus = Lleu Llaw (Gyffes)
Perseus (left), a son of Zeus, is one of Greek mythology’s heroes. It was he who beheaded the Gorgon, Medusa and saved Andromeda from the sea monster Cetus. Perseus’ mother was a mortal by the name of Danaë. He was also the great grandfather of Heracles, of whom we will hear later.
Perseus stopped in the kingdom of Æthiopia whilst travelling on his way back to Seriphos Island. Corresponding to modern day Ethiopia, this mystical land was ruled by King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia. Their daughter, Andromeda, had been said to have been of incredible beauty. Their meeting brought vengeance of Poseidon who sent a sea serpent named Cetus to the lands of Æthiopia which destroyed all living things in its part. The oracle of Ammon announced that Cetus would continue on its rampage unless the king exposed Andromeda to the monster. Fastening her naked to a rock on the shore, King Cepheus hoped for refuge from the monster. Perseus slew the monster and, setting Andromeda free, he claimed her in marriage.
Lleu Llaw Gyffes depicted as rising as an eagle (←).
Lleu Llaw Gyffes is a central figure of the fourth branch of the Mabinogi(on). His name translates from Welsh as ‘steady-handed beauty’ and he is described as virtuous, warrior-like and skilful, but also a naïve figure in the branch. He is often connected to (and may be identical to) the Irish hero Lug(h) Lámfhota (Lug(h) [of the] Long Arm) as well as the ancient god Lugus, who, along with being the antecedent of both Lleu and Lug(h), was probably the Gaulish god, Mercury, of whom Julius Cæsar spoke in the 1st century BC. Like Pryderi (also of Mabinogi(on) fame), Lleu is suggested to be a relation of Mabon ap Modron – a ‘divine son’ figure. His fleeting associations with the oak and eagle also imply a divine origin.
Position of Constellation:
Zeus = [[Llýr??sea god??]]
Zeus, of Greek mythology fame, is described as the god of gods.
FFONT: Pennyn 2
- 1) Llun o CYMERIAD RHUFAIN/GROEG/LLYCHLYN
- Gwybodaeth amdano
- 2) Llun o CYMERIAD CYMREIG
- Gwybodaeth amdano
- 3) Llun ohono fel sêr
Coronae Borealis = Ar(i)anrhod
Bordered in the night sky (at least in modern, Western culture) by Hercules, Boötes and Serpens Caput, Coronæ Borealis is a small constellation in the Northern Celestial Hemisphere. It is one of the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd-century astronomer Ptolemy, and remains one of the 88 modern constellations. Its brightest stars form a semicircular arc. Its Latin name, inspired by its shape, means “northern crown”. In classical mythology Corona Borealis generally represented the crown given by the god Dionysus to the Cretan princess Ariadne and set by him in the heavens. Other cultures likened the pattern to a circle of elders, an eagle’s nest, a bear’s den, or even a smokehole. Ptolemy also listed a southern counterpart, Corona Australis, with a similar pattern.
In Greek mythology, Corona Borealis was linked to the legend of Theseus and the minotaur. It was generally considered to represent a crown given by Dionysus to Ariadne, the daughter of Minos of Crete, after she had been abandoned by the Athenian prince Theseus. When she wore the crown at her marriage to Dionysus, he placed it in the heavens to commemorate their wedding. An alternate version has the besotted Dionysus give the crown to Ariadne, who in turn gives it to Theseus after he arrives in Crete to kill the minotaur that the Cretans have demanded tribute from Athens to feed. The hero uses the crown’s light to escape the labyrinth after disposing of the creature, and Dionysus later sets it in the heavens. The Latin author Hyginus linked it to a crown or wreath worn by Bacchus (Dionysus) to disguise his appearance when first approaching Mount Olympus and revealing himself to the gods, having been previously hidden as yet another child of Jupiter’s trysts with a mortal, in this case Semele. Corona Borealis was one of the 48 constellations mentioned in the Almagest of classical astronomer Ptolemy.
The Skidi people of Native Americans saw the stars of Corona Borealis representing a council of stars whose chief was Polaris. The constellation also symbolised the smokehole over a fireplace, which conveyed their messages to the gods, as well as how chiefs should come together to consider matters of importance. The Shawnee people saw the stars as the Heavenly Sisters, who descended from the sky every night to dance on earth. Alphecca signifies the youngest and most comely sister, who was seized by a hunter who transformed into a field mouse to get close to her. They married though she later returned to the sky, with her heartbroken husband and son following later. TheMi’kmaq of eastern Canada saw Corona Borealis as Mskegwǒm, the den of the celestial bear (Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta Ursæ Majoris).
Polynesian peoples often recognized Corona Borealis; the people of the Tuamotus named it Na Kaua-ki-tokerau and probably Te Hetu. The constellation was likely called Kaua-mea in Hawaii, Rangawhenua in New Zealand, and Te Wale-o-Awitu in the Cook Islands atoll of Pukapuka.
In Australian Aboriginal astronomy, the constellation is called womera (“the boomerang“) due to the shape of the stars. The Wailwun people of northwestern New South Wales saw Corona Borealis as mullion wollai “eagle’s nest”, with Altair and Vega—each called mullion—the pair of eagles accompanying it. The Wardaman people of northern Australia held the constellation to be a gathering point for Men’s Law, Women’s Law and Law of both sexes come together and consider matters of existence.
To the Celts, and especially the Welsh, Corona Borealis refers to the goddess Arianrhod – also spelled Aranrhod. A figure in Welsh mythology, Arianrhod played her most important rôle in the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi(on). She is the daughter of Dôn and the sister of Gwydion and Gilfaethwy however the Welsh Triads give her father as Beli Mawr.
Caer Arianrhod refers directly to the constellation itself and translates into English as ‘the Castle of the Silver Circle’ or simply ‘the Castle of Silver. This is considered to be the heavenly home of the Lady Arianrhod herself.
Position of Constellation:
Milky Way = Sarn / Caer Gwydion
Pegasus = Ceffyl Gwyn Llŷr
Andromeda = Epona
Hercules = Helith
Orion (Cernunnos) = Mabon
Gemini = Gwyn & Gwythur
Boötes = Hu Gadarn
Heracles = ??
Scorpius = Afanc
Corvus = Bran / Bendigeidfran