|Where the Forest Murmers
Vol VI, by Fiona Macleod
Of all winter stars surely the most familiar is Polaris, the Pole Star or Lodestar: of all winter Constellations, the Plough, the Little Dipper (to give the common designations), Orion, and the lovely cluster of the Pleiades, are, with the Milky May, the most commonly observed stellar groups. One of our old Scottish poets, Gawain Douglas, writing towards the close of the fifteenth or early in the sixteenth century, thus quaintly brought them into conjunction---
"Arthurys hous, and Hyades betaikning rane,
Watlingtstrete, the Home and the Charlewane,
The fiers Orion with his goldin glave." Here possibly he has taken Arcturus for Polaris. Of old, the Lodestar and Arcturus (or, as often given in the North, "Arturus or "Arthur" a word itself signifying the Great or Wondrous Bear) were often confused. Sometimes, too, Arcturus stood for the whole constellation of Ursa Major---or, as we commonly call it, the Plough or the Wain, as, for example, in Scott's lines:
"Arthur's slow wain his course doth roll,
In utter darkness, round the Pole."
But it is obvious Gawain Douglas did not mean this to be understood, for in the second
line he speaks of " Charlewane," i.e., Charles's Wain . . . the Wain or Waggon
being then, as it still is among country-folk, even more familiar a term than the Great
Bear or than the Plough itself. Probably, then, he had in mind the Pole Star, the
"House of Arthur " of the ancient British. His choice of the
"rain-betokening Hyades " may be taken here as including the Pleiades, these
"greater seven " in whom centres so much poetry and old legend. A previous paper
has been devoted to the Milky Way, so that there is no need to explain why Watling Street
should be analogous with the Galaxy. The "Horne" is the Little Dipper or Ursa
Minor. Than fierce Orion with his glistering sword there is no constellation so
universally familiar. If, then, to this category of the old Scottish poet, we add the star
Aldebaran, and the constellation of Taurus or the Bull, we have more than enough Winter
Lights to consider in one chapter.
"When with his golden horns bright Taurus opes
The year .
just as a poet of our own time, in a beautiful Hymn to Taurus," writes:
I mark, stern Taurus, through the twilight grey
The glinting of thy horn
And sullen front, uprising large and dim
Bent to the starry Hunter's sword at bay."
Among our own ancestors, the Druids made Taurus an object of worship, the Tauric Festival having been one of the great events of the year, signalised when the sun first entered the imagined frontiers of this constellation. To-day, among the homesteads of our Scottish lowlands, the farm-folk tell of the Candlemas Bull who may be seen to rise in the gloaming on New Year's Eve and move slowly to the dark pastures which await his coming.
The particular stellar glory of this constellation is Aldebaran. This beautiful star has appealed to the imagination of all peoples. I do not know what were its earliest Celtic or Anglo-Saxon names. But as in Gaelic it is sometimes called "the Hound," this term may well be a survival from ancient days. If
so, there is an interesting relation with the primitive Arabic name by which it is all but universally known. Aldebaran is Al Dabaran, the Follower: and, figuratively, a follower could hardly be better symbolised than by a hound. I recall a Gaelic poem on a legendary basis where tke analogy is still further emr phasised, for there Aldebaran is called "the Hound of the Pleiades," which is exactly what the Arabian astronomers implied in "the Follower." Another interesting resemblance is between "the red hound" of the Gaelic poet and legend and the Rokini of the Hindus, that word signifying " a red deer " . . . in each case the ruddy gleam of the star having suggested the name. Probably it was this characteristic which led Ptolemy to apply to the star the name " Lampadias " or the Torch-Bearer. In the narration of folk-tales I have more than once or twice heard Aldebaran alluded to as the star of good fortune, of 11 the golden luck." With us it is preeminently a winter-star, and may be seen at its finest from the latter part of January till the approach of the vernal equinox. Some idea of its luminosity may be gained from the fact that this is thrice the outgrow of the Pole Star. How often I have stood on a winter's night, and watched awhile this small
red "torch " burning steadfastly in the unchanging heavens, and thought of its vast journeys, of that eternal, appalling procession through the infinite deeps: how often I have felt the thrill of inexplicable mystery when, watching its silent fire in what appears an inexorable fixity, I recall what science tells us, that it is receding from our system at an all but an unparalleled velocity, a backward Iiight into the unknown at the rate of thirty miles a second.
It would be hopeless to attempt here even the briefest account of the primitive and diverse nomenclature, the mythology, the folklore of Orion . . . the Winter-Bringer, as this constellation is called in an old Scandinavian saga, identical thus with the marginal reading in the Geneva Bible relative to the reference to Orion in Job-,, which starre bringeth in winter," an allusion to its evening appearance at the season of cold and storms. For these things are writ in the records of a hundred nations. They are alive in the poetry of all peoples. Centuries before our era, when Thebes was the greatest city of Greece, the poetess Corinna sang of this great Warrior, the Great Hunter, whose nightly course was so glorious above the dusky lands and waters of Hellas. Long after Pindar and the Greek
poets, Catullus and Horace gave it a like preeminence in Latin literature. In our own poetry, many surely will recall from Paradise Lost:
Hath vext the Red-sea coast, whose waves o'er-
Busiris and his Memphian chivalry or Tennyson's beautiful line in Locksley Hall: "Great Orion sloping slowly to the west
or, it may be, that epic of "Orion" upon which is based Richard Hengist Horne's claim to remembrance-or, o'ce more, Mat thew Arnold's fine allusion to Sirius and Orion in Sohrab and Rustum:
the Northern Bear,
Who from her frozen height with jealous eye
Confronts the Dog and Hunter in the South."
Before Catullus or Pindar the Egyptians had identified Orion both with Horns and Osiris. Among the peoples of Israel the poets acclaimed the constellation as Nimrod, "the mighty Hunter" (or by another term signifying the Giant), "bound to the sky for rebellion against Jehovah." Among the Celtic
races it has had kindred names, sometime@ abstract, sometimes personal, as the Gaelic Fionn. A year or so ago I was told a seatale of the Middle Isles, in which was an allusion to this constellation as "the Bed of Diarmid." This is of especial interest, because of its connection with Fionn or Finn, the Nimrod, the great Hunter of the Gael. But in this story (a modern, not an ancient tale, though with more than one strange old;survival) the major position is not held by Fionn, but by the Alban-Gaelic hero Diarmid, who is represented as succumbing under the spear thrust in his left side by the enraged Fionn, at last in grips with the daring chieftain who had robbed him of Grania. When questioned, my informant said he had heard a variant of this attribution, and that the constellation was an image of Diarmid with Grania hanging to his side in a swoon, because she and her lover have been overtaken by the wrath of Fionn . . . though from the description I was uncertain whether the latter indicated the star Sirius, or the rival constellation of the Great Bear. The Gaels of old called Orion Caomai, a name said to signify the Armed King: while the Gall (the Scandinavian races) applied the name Orwandil, but with what signification I do not know, though I have read somewhere
that it stood for Hero, or for an heroic per-
Of the chief stars in Orion there is not space here to speak. But of the splendid Rigel-as affluent in the mysterious science of the astrologer as in nocturnal light-pearly Anilam, of the Belt or Sword-ominous Bellatrix - ruddy-flamed Betelgeuze - of these alone one might write much . . . as one might write much of the Girdle or Staff itself, what Scott in The Lay of the Last Minstrel calls Orion's studded belt." It has a score of popular names, from the Danish Frigge Rok (Freya's Distaff) to the seamen's 11 Yardarm," as, collectively, its three great stars have all manner of names in different countries, from the Magi, or the Three Kings or the Three Marys, to The Rake of the French Rhinelanders, or the Three Mowers of the Silesian peasant.
Those who have studied the mythology and folklore of the Pleiades will remember bow universally the numeral seven is associated with their varying nomenclature. But there was, and still is among primitive peoples, not infrequent confusion in the use of "The Seven Starsy' as a specific name. Although from China to Arabia, from India and Persia to the Latin countries of the South, the term
almost invariably designates the Pleiades, in the folklore of many Western nations it is used for the seven planets, and in many Northern races it is often used for the seven brilliant stars of the Great Bear. Even the 'Biblical allusion to " The Seven Stars," as our own Anglo-Saxon ancestral Sifitnsterri, does not ne
cessarily indicate the Pleiades: many consider the seven great planets to be meant. There is a Shetland rune, common to all the north isles and to be heard in Iceland and Norway, known as the rune of sevens, and of which one of the invocatory lines is 11 And by da seven shiners." All kinds of interpretation have explained this, from the obvious 11 seven planets," or else the Pleiades, to the Seven Candlesticks of Revelation and I know not what besides. I have again and again asked fisher-folk or others from the Orkneys and Shetlands, and in all but one or two instances the answer has clearly indicated the Great Bear, occasionally Polaris and the Ursine Arcturus and their nearest brilliant 'isbiners." Again, Ci-annarain, one of the Gaelic names for the Pleiades, is, perhaps, as often applied to the Great Bear: the curious legend of the Baker's Shovel, implied in the Gaelic term, fitting equally.
Of the Great Bear, of the North Star, how. 373
ever, I have already spoken. Of Polaris itself, indeed, there is more than enough to draw upon. It is strange that "the Lamp of the Nortg " should have so fascinated all the poets from the time of Homer till to-day, and yet that all have dwelled in the same illusion as to its absolute steadfastness. Nevertheless, Homer's
;'Arctos, sole star that never bathes in the ocean
has both poetic truth and the truth of
It is a relief to put aside notes and pen and
paper, and to go out and look up into the
darkness and silence, - to those " slow-moving
palaces of wandering light" of which one has
been writing. How overwhelmingly futile
seems not only the poor written word, but
even the mysterious pursuit of the far-fathom-
ing thoug@nt of man. By the sweat of the
bt6w, by the dauntless pride of the mind, we
mortal creatures have learned some of the
mysteries of the coming and going in infini-
ttide of these incalculable worlds, of their vast
procession from the unknown to the un-
known. Then, some night, one stands soli-
tary in the darkness, and feels less than the
shadow of a leaf that has passed upon the wind, before these still, cold, inevitable, infinitely remote yet overwhelmingly near Children of Immortality.