Hungry to be Ptolemy

Copyright: Tartu Observatory Virtual Museum

Copyright: Tartu Observatory Virtual Museum

I stand in my driveway for a few minutes each morning looking out at the night sky. On my iPad is an app, Star Walk that I can put up to the sky and it will identify each constellation. I have loved staring at the stars but have never really known what the various night forms are, and so have taken to trying to find them. I marvel at their names, Ophiuchus, Serpens Caput, Centaurus, Bootes, Corona Borealis, and Hercules. So much magic and myth in each name. The map above is of the sky as I saw it this morning: Scorpius, Lupus, Sagittarius, and Corona Australis. “Look who watched over my home this night”, I think to myself.

This is how our ancestors saw the night sky. A cast of characters galloping across the firmament each night. Each one part of a larger story, part of a mystical journey each of us could partake, if we chose. Or we could look upon the third brightest star in the Northern hemisphere, Arcturus glimmering in the night sky and know from that brilliant light erupts Bootes, the Plowman, first cataloged by Ptolemy in the 2nd Century. There isn’t just stars floating up there, but histories and stories and ancient mariners or philosophers charting unknown lands.

Richard D. Serros:

Richard D. Serros:

With all our technological advances and our hunger to know as much as we can, I often think we’ve lost a little of the mystery and wonder at the world and skies around us. We’ve forgotten to tell stories about the curious things we find in plain sight. We’ve lost touch a bit with the magic that looking upon a night sky to see peacocks and lovely, floating maidens can elicit.

We focus so keenly on the day ahead, we forget all around us is beauty and mystery that could alter our entire day if we would pause only briefly to look up and know a king’s crown or a great hero of old hangs gracefully there.


Our lives are not ground to salt by our labors. We lose the luster and vibrancy in living when we won’t take our eyes off our labors to see the marvels that exist effortlessly around us. Life dulls under the weight of brooding instead of delight in something extraordinary as a single crocus pushing up through snow or the wonder that comes from gazing upon Betelgeuse in Orion’s belt. When we release the need to stare at our troubles and turn our gaze upon the beauty that simply awaits our notice life becomes so much easier to bear, so much easier to awaken to each day, so much more fun to really live.

26 thoughts on “Hungry to be Ptolemy

  1. I so very much appreciate and love your insights of the night sky …I am looking up right this moment and feeling blessed to be upon this earth with those stars of such grandeur sparkling above this new land I find myself …thankyou my friend …love and blessings , megxxx

  2. A delightful post Noelle, beautifully written as always. Yes, we sometimes seem to be neglecting the power of narrative and imaginative freedoms in our reductionist, scientistic fervour to comprehend our place within existence. Many thanks, Hariod.

  3. Reminds me of when I was a boy, first learning these things. I went out the door and down the front steps after dark, (we lived in the inner city then), and fought with the street lights to see Orion and Beetlegeuse. They really captivated me. The way they had different colors. The way they twinkled a little. The way some were nebula and some were stars. Nature is full of such wonders, and you are right about the importance of keeping in touch with them.

    Sometimes it truly is a question of where we place our attention…


    • I love the childhood memories here, Michael. Yes, that’s when we were full of wonder. I camped out a lot and loved staring at the stars, tracking satellites and wondering about the cosmos. Seems essential to a spiritual life that we return to this sense of wonder. Keeps us feeling lighter in a very heavy, material world. Peace to you, my friend.

  4. Great informative post, Noelle, so like looking at the nightsky and exploring my google sky map, the history and naming of the constellations are so inventive and full of fantasy! Hope you´re doing great, greetings, Ron

    • I don’t like that they just give stars numbers now. Totally lacking in imagination and magic. Their complaint is there are too many. Only a logic mind would see that. An artist would rub their hands together, lick their lips with delight and dive in.

  5. When I was a kid, I had a set of cards that showed the constellations, overlaid with artists’ drawings of the mythical figures that went with them. And yes, they did look magical. Hadn’t thought about them in a long time — thanks Noelle. 🙂

  6. I do stop to look at the night sky, but have forgotten to think of it as “A cast of characters galloping across the firmament each night”. Your description is so perfectly enticing, and encourages me to think beyond “how pretty the stars are” to what they are called and the meaning behind them.
    As always, thank you for making me think

  7. I love to see the night sky when visiting a remote island. The night sky is different there than the sky in the city. Night sky in the cities usually mixed with city lights and not to mention the pollution 🙂 Beautiful reflection.. sometimes we need to take it easy and enjoy the moment 🙂

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