Athena's Web Weekly Column

  Week of September 24th - September 23rd,  2010

Birds of a Feather

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  Long, long ago in lands far, far away, creatures of the AIR were held to be sacred. Athena's Owl,
Owl in the coin

Owl is for Athens

Zeus's Eagle, Apollo's Crow and Aphrodite's Dove are a few examples. Egyptian flights reveal wings of the Hawk, Ibis and Vulture. Avian Wisdom entered a period where it was studied and carefully noted. Observation of flight and migrations revealed not only seasonal patterns (as the Kingfisher marking the Solstice), but might also carry messages for specific individuals or groups as we see repeatedly in Homer. Emissaries were sent to sacred hilltops to await judgement from on high. The stars, birds, rain- all were Children of the Sky and could reveal the future, dabbed upon the heavenly canvas by the Gods for the priesthood to see, interpret and honor. Avian notions took flight from 6300 to 4800 BC, while the Vernal Equinox (Spring) passed through the constellation Gemini.

  Myths born of this epoch were said to be born of the Egg. It was metaphorically split in half (the duality of Gemini) with the upper half-Egg becoming the dome of Heaven, while the lower half-Egg took on a role as the Sea and Earth.
Summer Triangle

The Summer Triangle

Roman Twins, the Dioscuri, were hatched from this Egg. The Pilos caps they wear are parts of the shell of the Egg left over and still on their heads after birth. The Dogon of Africa speak of two sets of Twins born of their 'Egg of Creation'. The Asian Pan'Ku was born of the Egg. Vishnu slept while in the Cosmic Egg.

  Birds became identified with the Will of the Divine as Heaven's Ambassadors. As late as the official state religions of the Greeks and Romans, birds are a mainstay of prophecy. The inauguration of Hellenic navigation each year opened and closed with the flight of pigeons just as the Pleiades once took flight in Spring.

  Although the Vernal Equinox has long since moved out from under this Avian Influence, there's still one season during which these birds of a feather flock together. It's when we look up to behold the Summer Triangle.

  The three most prominent stars of heaven through the summer are Deneb in Cygnus, Altair in Aquila, and Vega in Lyra.

  Swan, Eagle... and Harp?

  One of the more prominent constellations of the night sky because of both its brightness and position, Deneb marks the tail-feathers of the great Swan Cygnus. The early Greeks knew it as a Hen or Bird, while the Arabs of Sindbad day knew of it as the Roc.

  Aquila has long been known as the Eagle. Early depictions showed this image carrying an arrow in its talons.

  But a Harp?

Eagle and the Harp

The Eagle
and the Harp

  Indeed. Early representations of the Harp show it hanging from the claws of an Eagle. From Star Names and their Meanings, p. 282.

  "The association of Lyra's stars with a bird perhaps originated from a conception of the figure current for millenniums in ancient India- that of an Eagle or Vulture; and in Akkadia, of the great storm-bird Urakhga al Waki, Chilmead's Alvaka,- referring to the swooping Stone Eagle of the Desert, generally has been attributed to the configuration of the group alpha, epsilon, zeta, which shows the bird with half-closed wings, in contrast to Al Nasr al Tair, the Flying Eagle, our Aquila, whose smaller stars, beta and gamma, on either side of alpha, indicate the outspread wings."

  As the Summer Triangle takes flight each year, we are reminded of a time when observation of the Sky and those that reside there, commanded the attention of those that closely monitored such things.

  Three great birds, flying together through the sky, all summer long.

  Just like in days of old.


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