Category Archives: Winter
Pleiades Star Lore Around The World Continued
In Babylonian mythology and astronomy, the Pleiades are called MUL.MUL or “star of stars” in their star catalogues. The Pleiades are at the top of a list of stars along the ecliptic and close to the time of the Vernal Equinox around the time of the 23rd century B.C.E. A group of deities known as Zappu also represent the Pleiades star cluster.
Middle Eastern Mythology
Arabic – The Pleiades are known as al-Thurayya, they are mentioned in Islamic literature. The star, Aldebaran, meaning “the Follower” which is part of the Taurus constellation is seen as forever chasing al-Thurayya across the night sky.
Iran – In the Persian language, the Pleiades are known as Parvin. The name Parvin is also a very popular given name in Iran and neighboring countries.
Islam – Some Islamic scholars have thought that al-Thurayya might be the star mentioned in the sura Najm in the Quran. Muhammad is said to have counted 12 stars within the star cluster as found in Ibn Ishaq. This was in a time before telescopes and most people could only see six stars. The name al-Thurayya has been used as a female given name in Persian and Turkish culture. As seen in names such as Princess Soraya or in Iran and Thoraya as Obaid.
Judeo-Christian – In the Bible, the Pleiades are identified as being Kimah, meaning “cluster,” which is mentioned three times in relation to the constellation of Orion. Specifically in Amos 5:8; Job 9:9; and Job 38:31. In the New Testament, there is an indirect reference to this asterism found in Revelations 1:16.
The Talmud says that the Pleiades has about 100 stars. This is with the understanding that the word כימה as כמא (Kimah and pronounced as: ke’ me-ah) means just that, “about one hundred” in the Hebrew language.
The Talmud Rosh Hashanah tells that when God became with mankind’s wickedness, he went and remade Kimah, removing two of its stars and caused that this star cluster would rise with the dawn and out of season. This event is what precipitated and causes the Biblical Flood of Noah.
Pakistan – Much like Iran, the name Parvin is also a popular given name, especially for women. In recent decades the name hasn’t had as much use. In the Urdu language, the name Parvin and the stars it represents is a symbol of beauty.
Persian – The Pleiades are known as Nahid. Another name for the Pleiades that is shared by the Persiand and Urdu languages is Parvin, Parveen or Parween. It is a genderless or unisex given or family name used not just the Middle East, but Central Asia, South Asia and Azerbaijan. The name Parvin means star and is the name for the Pleiades asterism.
Native American Mythology
Several tribes have stories regarding the Pleiades star cluster.
Blackfoot – The Lost Boys – This is a story in which the Pleiades are a group of orphaned boys not taken care of by anyone, so they ended up becoming stars. Sun Man was angered by the boys’ neglect, so he punished the people with a drought, causing the buffalo to leave. The wolves, the only friends the boys had ever had, intervened for the people to have the buffalo return. Sadden by their lives on earth, the boys asked the Sun Man to allow them to play up in the heavens where they became the Pleiades. In addition, to remind the tribe of their neglect of the children, they hear the howling of the wolves calling for the friends up in the heavens.
The story represents more the time of the year and season in which the Blackfoot gather to hunt the buffalo. The buffalo herds don’t appear while the Lost Boys or Pleiades asterism is in the sky and this marks when the hunters would set out to their hunting grounds.
Another name for the Pleiades star cluster in Blackfoot legends is the Bunched stars. Instead of being orphans, the boys’ family were so poor that they couldn’t afford buffalo robes worn by other boys in the tribe. Out of grief and shame, the six boys went up into the sky to become stars.
Cheyenne – A Cheyenne legend, “The Girl Who Married a Dog,” tells how the Pleiades stars represent puppies that a Cheyenne chief’s daughter gave birth to after being visited by a dog in human form. The daughter had fallen in love with the dog-being and vowed that: “Where you go, I go.”
Cherokee – Both the Cherokee and Onondaga tribes tell a similar story about a group of seven boys who refused to any of their sacred responsibilities and only wanted to play. They ran around and ‘round the village’s ceremonial circle until all seven of the boys rose up into the sky. Only six of the boys reached the heavens where they became the Pleiades star cluster. The seventh boy was caught by his mother and pulled back to the earth so hard that he sunk into the ground, becoming a pine tree.
Crow – The Crow military societies have many songs that use a play on words referencing the Pleiades constellation. Many of the words are often difficult to translate and the stories range from stories of bravery and high ideals to many amusing or comical stories.
Hopi – The Hopi built many underground places called kivas that would get used for a variety of purposes. The most important of these kivas that was used for ceremonial meetings could only be accessed through a ladder in a small hole at the roof. During some ceremonies, the appearance of the Pleiades or Tsöösöqam, over the opening hole marked when to begin the ceremony. The Pleiades have been found shown on one wall in a kiva.
Inuit – Nanook, the Inuit Bear God was identified with the Pleiades. In the early days, a great bear threatened all of the people. This bear was chased up into the heavens by a pack of dogs where they continue to chase after the bear in the form of the Pleiades.
Kiowa – There is a legend told about how seven maidens were being chased by giant bears. The Great Spirit created Mateo Tepe, the Devil’s Tower and placed the maidens up on it. Still the bears pursued the maidens, clawing at the sides of the sheer cliffs. Such claw marks are said to be the vertical striations of the rock formation. Seeing that the bears were relentless in pursuit of the maidens, the Great Spirit placed the seven maidens up into the sky to become the Pleiades.
Lakota – There is a legend that links the origin of the Pleiades with Devils Tower. This constellation is known as Cmaamc, an archaic plural form of the noun cmaam, meaning “woman.” The stars are seven women who are giving birth.
Additionally, the Lakota hold a similar legend to the Kiowa about Mato Tipila, “Bear Tower” or Devil’s Tower to European settlers. A tribe was camped beside a river and seven of their young girls were playing nearby. The area at this time had a number of bears living there and a bear began chasing the girls. The girls started running back to the village. Just as the bear was about to catch them, the girl leaped up onto a rock. They cried out: “Rock, take pity on us; Rock, save us.” The rock heard their cries and began to rise up high out of the bear’s reach. The bear clawed at the sides of the rock, its claws breaking off. The bear kept jumping at the rock until it rose higher and higher to the point that the girls reached the sky where they became the Pleiades. The claw marks of the bear can still be seen on Mato Tipila or Devil’s Tower.
Mono – The Monache tell a story how the Pleiades are six women who loved onions more than their husbands. They were thrown out of their homes by their angry husbands and found their way up to the heavens. When the husband grew lonely and tried to find their wives, it was too late.
Navajo – The Navjo story of The Flint Boys, after the Earth had been separated from the Sky by the Black Sky God, he had a cluster of stars on his ankle. These stars were the Flint Boys. During the Black God’s first dance, with each stamp of his foot, the Flint Boys would jump up further on his body. First to the knee, then the hip, to his shoulder and finally up to his forehead. There they remained as a sign that the Black God was Lord of the Sky. The seven stars of the Pleiades or Flint Boys are shown on ceremonial masks for the Black God, sand paintings and ceremonial gourd rattles.
Nez Perce – They have a myth about Pleiades that parallels the ancient Greek myth and the Lost Pleiades. In this myth, the Pleiades are a group of sisters and one of the sisters falls in love with a man. When he died, she was so grief stricken, that she finally told her sisters about him. The other sisters mocked her, telling her how foolish she is to mourn the death of a human. This sister continued to grow in her sorrow, to the point she became ashamed of her own feelings that she pulled a veil over herself, blocking herself from view in the night sky. The Nez Perce use this myth to explain why only six of the seven stars is visible to the naked eye.
Onondaga – Their version of the story surrounding Pleiades has it the stars represented lazy children who wanted to dance instead of doing their chores. All the while as they ignored the warnings of the Bright Shining Old Man. Eventually, light headed and dizzy from hunger, the children rose up into the heavens to become the Pleiades.
Pawnee – Among the Skidi Pawnee, the Pleiades are seen as seven brothers. They observed this star cluster along with the Corona Borealis, the Chiefs through a smoke hole in Pawnee lodges in order to keep track of the time of night.
Shasta – In their stories, the Pleiades are the children of Raccoon who are killed by Coyote while avenging their father’s death. After death, they rose up to become the Pleiades star cluster. The smallest star in the asterism is seen as Coyote’s youngest child who helped Raccoon’s children.
Zuni – They used the Pleiades as an agricultural calendar. Among the Zuni, the Pleiades were known as the “Seed Stars.” When the Pleiades disappeared on the western horizon during spring, it was time for planting seeds as the danger of frost had pass. The Zuni also knew to finish all of their planting and harvesting before the Pleiades returned on the eastern horizon with the return of colder autumn weather and frost.
New Age, Western Astrology & Occult Connections
Astrology – In Western astrology, the Pleiades have come to represent coping with sorrow. In Medieval times, they were viewed as a single set of fixed stars and associated with fennel and quartz. In esoteric astrology, there are seven solar systems that revolve around Pleiades.
New Age – There’s a belief that the Sun and the Earth will pass through a Photon belft from the Pleiades star cluster. This will cause a cataclysm or a time of spiritual transition that is referred to as a “shift in consciousness,” the “Great Shift” and “Shift of the Ages.”
Occult – The Pleiades are mentioned as an astrological sign in “Three Books of Occult Philosophy” by Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa. It has a publication date of 1533, but may have appeared earlier in 1510.
Theosophy – It is believed that the seven stars of the Pleiades act as a focus for the spiritual energy of the Seven Rays from the Galactic Logos to the seven stars of the Great Bear, from there the star Sirius, on to the Sun and then to the god of the Earth, Sanat Kumara and finally that energy goes through the seven Masters of the Seven Rays to everyone else.
Ufology – Some people have described a race of Nordic aliens known as Pleiadeans who come from the Pleiades star cluster. A man by the name of Billy Meier claims to have had contact with and met these aliens.
The Pleiades were seen as the goddess Freyja’s hens. Their name in many older European languages refer to this star cluster as a hen with chicks.
The name of Hen and Chicks for Pleiades is found in Old English, Old German, Czech, Hungarian and Russian.
The Pleiades are known by various names such as Moropóro, Molopólo or Mapúlon. Christian Filipinos know this star cluster as Supot ni Hudas (Judas’ pouch) or Rosaryo (Rosary).
Hawaiian – The Pleiades are known as Makali’i. It’s rise shortly after sunset marks the beginning of the Hawaiian New Year known as Makahiki. This is four month period of peace honoring the god Lono. The Hawaiian New Year’s celebration is similar to the Maori New Year’s observances.
Maori – Among the Maori of New Zealand, the Pleiades are known as Matariki, “eyes of god” or Mata rikie, “Little Eyes”, she is a goddess who is accompanied by her six daughters: Tupu-a-Nuku, Tupu-a-Rangi, Wai-Tii, Wai-Ta, Wai-puna-Rangi, and Uru-Rangi.
From June 20 to June 22, known as Maruaroa o Takurua, marks the middle of winter. This time period comes right after the rise of the Pleiades or Matariki and is the beginning of the New Year. Tradition holds that the Sun starts his northward journey with his winter-bride Takurua, represented by the star Sirius and will make his southward journey later with his summer-bride, Hineraumati.
Another story involving Matariki, tells that one day Ranginui, the sky father and Papatūānuku, the earth mother were separated by their children. The wind god Tāwhirimātea ripped out his eyes in rage and flung them up into the heavens where they became a star cluster.
Polynesian – According to Polynesian legends, the Pleiades were once one star and had been the brightest in the night sky. The god Tane hated this star so much as it had boasted of its own beauty. The legend goes on to say that Tane proceeded to smash this star into pieces, creating the Pleiades star cluster.
The Pleiades in Rome are called The Bunch of Grapes and The Spring Virgins. Another name for these stars is Vergiliae as this asterism begins to rise after Spring and considered a sign of Summer before setting later in the Winter months. In modern day Italy, the Pleiades began rising around the beginning of May and would set around the beginning of November.
South American Mythology
Andes – Among the people of the Andes Mountains, the Pleiades were associated with abundance as this star cluster was seen as returning every year during the harvest season. Among the Quechua, the Pleiades are known as collca’ meaning storehouse.
Inca – The Pleiades were called the “Seed Scatter” or “Sower.” Another name for the Pleiades are the “Little Mothers.” The Incas held festivals when this asterism appeared in the night sky.
Paraguay – The Abipones tribe worshipped the Pleiades, believing them to be their ancestors.
Peru – The season of Verano, roughly meaning summer or Dry Season. There is a ritual coinciding with the Pleiades during the Summer Solstice. A Peruvian cosmological chart from 1613 C.E. appears to show the Pleiades asterism. An Incan nobleman, Pachacuti Yamqui drew the chart in order to show objects depicted in the Cusco temple. He added Spanish and Quechua notations to his chart.
The Pleiades are known as Dao Luk Kai in Thailand. The name translates to the “Chicken Family Stars” in English, it is name that comes from Thai folklore.
An elderly couple living in a forest of Thailand were raising a family of chickens; a mother hen and her six chicks. One day, a monk arrived at the couple’s home during his Dhutanga journey. Fearful of not having anything good enough to offer for a meal, the couple considered cooking the mother hen. The mother hen overheard the couple’s conversation, hurried back to the coup to say goodbye to her chicks. The mother hen told her chicks that they would need to take care of themselves from now on. After that, the mother hen returned to the elderly couple so they could prepare their meal for the monk.
When the mother hen was killed, her chicks threw themselves into the fire to die alongside her. The god, Indra was impressed by their great love and in remembrance, raised the chickens up into the heavens as stars.
Depending on the version of the story being told, if only six chicks are mentioned, then the mother is included as being among the stars of Pleiades. Otherwise, it is usually seven chicks who make up the stars in Pleiades.
In Turkey, the Pleiades are known as Ãlker or Ülker. According to legends, mankind was suffering a lot of suffering and evil. The creator god, Tangri Ulgen met with the Sky Spirits of the West, the Ãlker. A decision was reached and they sent an eagle, the first Shaman down to the earth to ease these afflictions and problems. The nomadic tribes of Turkey see the Pleiades as a source of both solace and the area of the heavens where the gods reside.
Kaşgarlı Mahmud. An 11th century lexicographer, the term ülker çerig refers to a military ambush. Where the word cerig means: “troops in battle formation.” The term ülker çerig has been used as a simile for the Pleiades asterism.
There are a few different names that the Pleiades are known as in traditional Ukrainian folklore. Some of these names are Stozhary, which can be traced etymologically to the word stozharnya, meaning “granary,” “storehouse for hay and crops” or it can be reduced to it’s meaning of sto-zhar, meaning “hundredfold glowing.” Other names for the Pleiades are Volosozhary and Baby-Zvizdy.
With the names Volosozhary, which means “the ones whose hair is glowing” and ‘Baby-Zvizdy which means “female-stars,” the Pleiades star clusters refers to a group of female tribal deities. In Ukrainian legend, long ago, there lived seven maids who danced their traditional dances and sing songs to honor the gods. After their death, the gods turned the seven maids into water nymphs and took them up into the Heavens where they became the now familiar star cluster. The symbol of this star cluster was used as a women’s talisman.
Also known as: The Seven Sisters, Vergilia, Vergiliae, Ladies of Plenty
In Greek mythology, the Pleiades are a group of seven sisters who are the daughters of Atlas and the sea-nymph Pleione, a protector of sailors. A slight variation to this is that instead of Pleione as the mother of the Pleiades, it is the sea-nymph Aethra or Erechtheus who is their mother.
They were born on Mount Cyllene. As the daughters of Atlas, they are also the half-sisters to the Hyades. Like the Hyades, their brother is Hyas. Other accounts will place Calypso and the Hesperides as their sisters too.
The Pleiades are also some of the many nymphs associated with the goddess Artemis. With their sisters the Hyades, they were also called the Atlantides, Dodonides and Nysiades. Depending on the stories referenced, they served with the Hyades as nursemaids and teachers to a young Dionysus.
The Pleiades star cluster is known throughout the world and many cultures revere and refer to these stars in a number of different cultural mythologies and astronomies. Only those cultures and people located far to the south on the Earth seem to have no significant mythologies or astronomy related to this star cluster.
In astronomy, the Pleiades are known as the Seven Sisters or Messier 45 and are one of two star clusters or asterisms found within the Taurus constellation. The Pleiades is sometimes, erroneously referred to as the Maia Nebula. It is believed that only six of the seven stars can be seen without the aid of a telescope. The star that isn’t visible is Merope, who hides her shame at having married a mortal, Sisyphus, the king of Corinth. Latin author Hyginus has suggested that this star is likely Electra mourning the loss of her son Dardanus.
For many ancient people and cultures around the world, the appearance of the Pleiades often marks important or significant annual events for changes of the seasons or agriculture.
Famed astronomer, Galileo Galilei is considered the first astronomer to use a telescope when observing the Pleiades. He’s thus the first to discover that this asterism contains numerous stars that are too dim to be seen with the naked eye. Galileo’s book Sidereus Nuncius has a sketch of the Pleiades showing 36 stars. The use and aid of telescopes has shown that there are as many as 500 stars within the Pleiades star cluster.
People with exceptional eyesight have been known to see more stars within Pleiades than the seven of Greek legend. Some claim to have seen as many as 20 stars. Maestlin, who tutored Kepler is to have mapped out 11 stars within the Pleiades before the advent of the telescopes.
From the Earth’s perspective, the Pleiades appear to be within the Taurus constellation. In the Northern Hemisphere, the best times to view this star cluster is in September, November and January. For many cultures located in the Northern Hemisphere, the month corresponding to November is often seen as the month for the Pleiades it is at this time the asterism can be seen rising from dusk and setting at dawn.
Over the last few years, astronomers have been learning more and more about the Pleiades star cluster. Not just in the high number of stars that make up this asterism, but the discovery of stars known as brown dwarfs. Brown dwarfs are small stars that may have started off like other stars, they lack having enough mass to create enough of a temperature and pressure to burn. After a brown dwarf’s initial creation, it may flicker or give off a small amount of light due to small quantities of deuterium burning. Most brown dwarfs are about the size of Jupiter and have about 10 to 80 times its mass. Eventually, a brown dwarf will fade and whatever core temperature and light it did have is gone, making brown dwarfs hard to find.
The meaning for the word Pleiades has numerous different meanings. It is typically thought the Pleiades are named for their mother Pleione in Greek mythology. There’s a good deal of uncertainty as other words suggested are: plein, “to sail” and then there is pleos, “full, many” and lastly, peleiades, “flock of doves.”
Now days, the word Pleiades has generally taken on the meaning of “multitude.” It has inspired the name for a French literary movement called La Pléiade. There is also an earlier group of Alexandrian poets, known as the Alexandrian Pleiad.
Sisters In Myth, But Not In Astronomy
Nine of the brightest stars in the Pleiades are named for the seven sisters of Greek mythology and their parents Atlas and Pleione. While in Greek legends the Hyades and Pleiades are half-sisters, when it comes to astronomy, the two star clusters aren’t related at all.
While there are seven sisters and stars mentioned in the classical Greek mythology, the Pleiades are composed of hundreds of stars. In 1767 C.E., the Reverend John Michell calculated that the probability of such a seeming random chance alignment of so many stars to be 1 in 500,000. Since then, astronomers have found that the Pleiades star cluster is composed of hot blue-white suns, placing the age of this cluster to be some 100 million years old. The Hyades star cluster is composed of cooler red giant and white dwarf stars that place this cluster being far older at over 700 million years old.
Despite the myth of the Pleiades fleeing from Orion’s unwanted advances, this star cluster is slowly moving towards the stars that make up the feet of the Orion constellation. This will actually take about 250 million years.
The Seven Sisters
In regards to Greek mythology, the stars of the Pleiades represent a group of seven sisters, all of whom are daughters of the titan Atlas and the Oceanid Pleïone.
All seven sisters had love affairs with different prominent Olympian gods with the exception of Merope who was punished for loving a mortal. For this reason, Merope doesn’t shine as brightly as the other stars as she is thought to be concealing her shame.
Their names are given as follows:
Alcyone – Also called Halcyone, “queen who wards of evil [storms]” or “strong helper”. By Poseidon, she is the mother of Anthas, Aethusa, Hyperenor and Hyrieus.
Asterope – Also spelled Sterope, “lightning,” “twinkling,” “sun-face,” “stubborn-face,” “star-faced” or “flashing-face.” By Ares, she is the mother of Oenomaus, the king of Pisa. Other stories place Oenomaus as her husband.
Celaeno – Also spelled Celæno, “swarthy,” “black” or “dark.” By Poseidon, she is the mother of Eurypylus and Lycus. A different account says that by Prometheus, she is the mother Lycus and Chimærus.
Electra – Also called Eleckra, “amber,” “shining,” “bright.” By Zeus, she is the mother of Dardanus, the founder of Troy. Some accounts place Electra as the mother of Iasion with Zeus as the father. She is called Atlantis by Ovid. According to Thaumas, this Electra may be the mother of the Harpies.
Maia – “grandmother,” “mother,” “nurse,” “the great one” or “good nursing mother.” The oldest of the Pleiades, by Zeus, she is the mother of Hermes.
Merope – “eloquent,” “bee-eater,” “mortal” or “sparkling-face.” The youngest of the Pleiades, she was wooed by Orion. In other retellings of her story, she marries the mortal Sisyphus and thus becomes mortal herself and eventually she fades away or dies. With Sisyphus, Merope had several sons: Glaucus, Ornytion and Sinon. She is sometimes said to be the mother of Daedalus, Alcippe and Iphinoe.
Taygete – Also spelled Taigete, “long-necked” or “of Mount Taygetus.” By Zeus she is the mother of Lacedaemon, the founder of Sparta. By this, she is an important goddess.
The Lost Pleiades
The Greek myths tell of the loss of one of the Pleiades, Merope who is said to be hiding her face in shame as she married a mortal, leaving only six stars that can be seen. Sometimes the missing Pleiades is Electra who is hiding her face at the destruction of Troy. She reappears afterwards as a comet and as a result, the passing of comets in the heavens came to be associated with impending doom or disaster. Other times it is Celaeno, who was struck by lightning.
The story of a missing Pleiad also appears in other cultures such as African, Asian, Australian, European, Hindu, Indonesian, Jewish, Mongolian and Native American mythology. The star Celaeno is currently the dimmest star. However the star, Asterope is actually two stars, both of which are dimmer than Celaeno. There does seem to be a basis for this part of the legends as astronomical evidence clearly points to a once visible star within the Pleiades cluster that has since become extinct by the end of second millennium B.C.E.
Also known as: Befana, Befanta
Etymology – Epifania or Epiphania – the Italian name for the religious holiday of Epiphany. It is thought by some that Befana’s name comes from the Italian mispronunciation of the Greek word “epifania” or “epiphaenia” which means “appearance” or “surface” and “manifestation.” It certainly is the source for the English word epiphany. Another line of thought is that the name Befana comes from the word Bastrina which refer to gifts given by the Sabine goddess Strina.
Perhaps I’m a bit early in posting for La Befana, the Italian Christmas Witch or Fairy. However with the holiday season, I find it easier to get her in now before January 6th arrives.
For children in Italy, Befana plays a role very similar to Santa Claus, however instead of a sleigh pulled by reindeer, she flies around on a broom, delivering her gifts of candy to good children in the first week of January. Italian children are very lucky, they not only get visited by Befana; they still get visited by Babbo Natale; both of whom bring presents and gifts.
La Befana is described as an old woman wearing a black shawl while riding a broomstick and carrying a bag of gifts. Sometimes Befana is said to ride either a goat or a donkey.
Like her counterpart of Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus, La Befana is also known for coming down the chimney to bring her gifts to children. Presents and candy for those children who have been good and coal for those who have been bad. In more modern times, the coal is actually a piece of black rock candy. Befana’s being dressed in black explains her being covered in soot from going down chimneys, which she will sweep up after she’s done with her visit and leaving gifts.
Where Santa will receive plates of cookies and a glass of milk as a treat or offering left out for him; Italian children will prepare and leave out a plate of soft ricotta cheese for La Befana as she no longer has any good teeth left. Other foods such as a glass of wine or broccoli may be left too.
Another aspect that Santa Claus and Befana share in common is that children will write letters to them, requesting a special need or want. Some cities in Italy will set up a mailbox for letters to La Befana in the same manner that Post Offices such as in the U.S. will have mailboxes set up for Santa. Some children will hide their notes or letters to Befana in their chimney for her to find.
La Befana also doesn’t like to be seen and will smack any child caught spying on her with her broomstick. Obviously this part of the story seems a way of parents keeping children in bed while gifts are left out.
The Basic Story And Legend
There are a few different versions to the legend and story behind La Befana.
On the second hill in Via della Padella, there is a village where La Befana lives. In this story, she is said to be part fairy and part witch. La Befana spends the entire year in the company of her grotesque assistants known as the Befanucci preparing coal, making candy and toys and mending old stockings which are given out during the nights of January 5th and 6th, which is said to be the longest night of the year.
The second story is a Christianized version and probably one of the more familiar ones.
When the three wise men were on their journey to visit the young Christ, they stopped at the home of an old woman with a broom who asked them where they were going. They told her that were following a star that would lead them to the newborn baby and savior Jesus.
The wise men asked the old woman if she wanted to come with them, but she replied that she was far too busy cleaning and didn’t have time to go.
Later when the old woman, La Befana had either finished her cleaning, changed her mind about going or realized that the baby whom the wise men spoke of was the prophesied redeemer, it was too late. She was too late in coming to visit the Christ child, he had already left. Other versions of this story have La Befana getting lost on the way.
Ever since then, La Befana has been searching for the baby Christ and leaving gifts in the homes where children live in hopes that one of them is the young Christ. In some retellings, Befana has come to see and realize over her many years of searching, that in a way, the Christ Child can be found in all children and this is why she will leave her gifts.
Slight variations to this story have Befana running as fast as she could to catch up with the Wise Men that she began to fly on her broom she was still holding onto.
Another variation to the flying broom is that angels appeared, coming from the bright star in the sky and enchanted Befan’s broom so she could search more easily for the Baby Jesus.
Zoroastrian Connection – With this idea in mind, the Magi, Kings in their own right, were fire priests from a privileged caste in Persia. The gifts the Magi carry in the biblical story, represent thre worlds: earthly gold, celestial incense and myrrh from beyond the grave. These three elements were linked to the sacred fires of Vedica, India and Avestica, Persia. There may be a connection between them, their gifts and La Befana with them all arriving on January 6th, the Epiphany.
In a story similar to that involving the wise men, this story too has Christian connections.
With this story, La Befana was a mother who lived during the time of King Herod. When Herod made his decree that all the first born male children and male children born that year were to be killed in his efforts to try and prevent the new king, La Befana’s son was among many of those slain by Herod’s soldiers.
So traumatized by grief with the loss of her son and in deep denial to his death, La Befana became convinced that her son was merely lost. She placed all of her son’s belongings in a sack and went out searching for him, going from house to house. The stress from worry, caused La Befana to quickly age, becoming an old woman.
With what seemed liked forever for the grief stricken mother, yet only a few days, La Befana found a male baby in a manager. Certain that she had found her son, La Befana laid out all of her son’s belongings for the infant. The baby in question was Jesus Christ and he blessed the lady as “Befana,” the giver of gifts.
Every year since, on January 5th, the eve of the Epiphany, La Befana would be Mother to all of the world’s children and care for them by bringing gifts of treats, toys and clothing. While some families will leave out a plate of soft ricotta cheese for her, other families will have a plate with broccoli and spice sausage along with a small glass of wine for La Befana.
In this story, La Befana is benevolent and kindly old Witch who saw the emptiness that children suffered during the long, dark nights of winter. Because of her great love and affection for all innocents, La Befana wanted the children to know that even in the darkness of winter, that kindness and hope could still be found.
Starting with the eve of Yule, typically around December 21st, La Befana would, in secret go from door to door, leaving a basket of gifts. Inside each basket would be bread, cheese, sweets and gifts for the children. A final gift, more important and precious than the others was a colored, scented candle; a Solstice candle. Families would light this candle on the night of the Solstice, the flame of this candle both symbolized and brought the light of hope for the coming year. It is a reminder that even in the darkest cold of winter, the light and warmer days of summer would come again.
Epiphany – Little Christmas
January 6th marks the final day of the holiday season in Italy. This is the day that La Befana arrives, bringing gifts and treats for children, marking the end of the Yule Season. Epiphany or Twelfth Night is also when the 12 Wise Men are said to have finally visited the baby Jesus, bringing with them their gifts.
As Little Christmas, the Epiphany is traditionally a holiday for children in Italy. In the region of Abruzzo and other Southern areas, one festivity that children celebrate is called Pasquetta and commemorates the arrival of the Magi to Bethlehem when visiting the infant Jesus. There are parades held that feature La Befana. She is sometimes accompanied by her male companion, Befano. Children will sing songs to La Befana and leave out dolls in windows. Some families will burn the dolls as a means ending the past year and bring good luck for the coming year. Family and friends will from house to house visiting each other after opening their gifts from La Befana in the morning. Firework displays are also part of many modern Epiphany celebrations. Her arrival is also celebrated with traditional foods such as panettone, a Christmas cake.
The celebration of Befana during Epiphany is huge in Italy where she has become a national icon. In the areas of Marche, Umbria and Lazio, Befana is associated with the Papal States where Epiphany has the strongest presence. Befana’s home is thought to be Umbria.
The stories and traditions of La Befana are older than those of Babbo Natale; Santo Natale, the Italian names for Father Christmas or Santa Claus. She can be found going back centuries with some speculation that La Befana may be the goddess Hecate. Historically, La Befana first appears in writing in a poem written by Agnolo Firenzuola in 1549.
La Befana’s festival has taken over an ancient pagan feast celebrated on the Magic Night, the 6th day of the New Year. One aspect of the Epiphany celebrations as part of an ancient holiday for celebrating the New Year, is a time for purification. This is seen in Befana’s carrying a broom that she uses to sweep around the fireplaces of those whom she visits as a mean of clearing away the old, negative energies of the previous year and cleansing it for the coming New Year.
Other rites used for purification were burning effigy dolls of Befana to symbolize the death of the old year and the birth of the New Year. The end of the long winter nights and the return of the longer days of spring and summer. The coal Befana is known for leaving for naughty children has connections to sacred bonfires and is a symbol of fertility with the renewal of the earth at spring. The sacred bonfires are also seen in the ceppo or yule logs burned at this time of the year. The ashes from the burned yule log would be kept and sprinkled out in the fields for good luck and to ensure a healthy crop.
Sometimes the Ceppo is a pyramid made of wood, a tiered tree believed to have started in the Tuscan region of Italy. This tree would have three to five shelves and the frame decorated. On the bottom shelf is the family’s Nativity scene and the remaining shelves would hold greenery, fruit, nuts and present. The Nativity or Presepio represents the gift of God. The fruit and nuts represent the gifts of the Earth and the presents the gift of man. The top of the tree would have an Angel, star or a pineapple that represents hospitality. Sometimes candles are attached to the outside of each shelf, which is why the ceppo is also called the “Tree of Light.”
In Abruzzo, on the morning of Janurary 6th, sacristans would go from house to house leaving what is known as “Bboffe water.” This water was used for devotions or sprinkled around the house ward off and keep away negative energy or magic.
In the region of Romagna, the celebration of Epiphany was a time for connecting with their ancestors, which would help to ensure a successful crop and fertility for the coming year. This connection is seen in the Befanotti who represented the ancestors going from house to house singing Pasquella and in Befana coming down the chimneys to leave a gift.
The Italian anthropologists Claudia and Luigi Manciocco make a connection of Befana’s origins back to Neolithic times, beliefs and practices. They make a further connection of Befana having evolved into a Fertility and Agricultural goddess in their book “Una Casa Senza Porte” (“House without a Door”).
Ancient Sabine Goddess – Strenua
La Befana is thought to be connected to the Sabine/Roman goddess known as Strenua or Strina who was a goddess of strength and endurance. This connection has been made mention in the book “Vestiges of Ancient Manners and Customs, Discoverable in Modern Italy and Sicily” by Reverend John J. Blunt. Strenua presided over the New Year, Purifications and Well-Being. She would give gifts of figs, dates and honey. Strenua’s festivities were opposed by early Christians who viewed them as too noisy, riotous and licentious.
On January 1st, twigs were carried from Strenua’s grove, likely located in or near Via Sacra where she had a temple, in a procession to the citadel. This particular rite is first mentioned happening on New Year’s Day in 153 B.C.E. This is the year when the consuls first began assuming their office at the beginning of the year. With the switch and change over from the Julian to the Gregorian Calendars, it’s not clear if January 1st had always been the date that Strenua’s New Year celebration had been observed or if it had been held on the original New Year’s Day, a date sometimes thought in this case to have been March 1st.
The name Strenia is thought to be the origin for the word strenae, which were New-Year’s gifts that the Romans exchanged to promote good omens. Various strenae have been branches or twigs and money. Another name for these gifts is Bastrina and it is thought to have given their name to La Befana.
According to a Johannes Lydus, strenae is a Sabine word meaning “wellbeing” or “welfare”. It is unknown how accurate this may be as many words attributed to the Sabines are only singular, one word or there and no surviving scripts or inscriptions have been found. Saint Augustine says that Strenia was a goddess responsible for making a person vigorous or strong. And if you haven’t guessed it, the root for the word strenuous.
There seems to be a lot of strong agreement that Strenua rites and celebrations survive in the festivities surrounding La Befana.
Other Mythological Figures Possibly Connected To Befana
Giubiana – An old woman or crone and festival of the same name held in the Northern Italy region of Lombardy. An effigy of Giubiana and sometimes her male counterpart and spouse, Ginée who is the personification of January. An effigy of Giubiana is burned to ashes to symbolize the burning away of the old year and the end of winter.
Nicevenn – La Befana has been connected to the Scottish figure of Nicevenn as a source of inspiration for her legend and traditions. With Nicevenn or Gyre-Carling as she was also known, it was considered unlucky to leave any unfinished knitting lying around lest she steal it.
Perchta – A southern Germanic goddess from the Alpine countries. She is sometimes identified with the Germanic goddess Holda. Both goddesses are known as a “guardian of the beasts” and making an appearance during the Twelve Days of Christmas; overseeing spinning. Perchta is a goddess who went from being benevolent to more malevolent with the passage of time and rise of Christianity. At one time during the Yule Season and Epiphany, Perchta will leave a silver coin for those who have been good and she reportedly will slit open the bellies of who haven’t and stuff them with straw and pepples. Thankfully, Perchta has become more tempered again and will leave coal instead if someone’s been bad.
Befana Poems And Songs
There a number of different songs sung about Befana with slightly different versions found in different regions of Italy.
The following is one version:
“La Befana vien di notte
Con le scarpe tutte rotte
Col vestito alla romana
Viva, Viva La Befana!”
The English translation is as follows:
The Befana comes by night
With her shoes all tattered and torn
She comes dressed in the Roman way
Long life to the Befana!
A poem by Giovanni Pascoli:
“Viene, viene la Befana
Vien dai monti a notte fonda
Come è stanca! la circonda
Neve e gelo e tramontana!
Viene, viene la Befana”
The English translation is as follows:
“Here comes, here comes the Befana
She comes from the mountains in the deep of the night
Look how tired she is! All wrapped up
In snow and frost and the north wind!
Here comes, here comes the Befana!”
Those familiar with Greek mythology, will no doubt be familiar with the image of the Sea-Goat known as Capricorn. The lower half of Capricorn resembles that of a fish, while the upper half is that of a goat. There are a few different conflicting myths regarding the Capricorn constellation.
Astronomy & Astrology
Much of the foundations of Western knowledge regarding the fields of Astronomy and Astrology owe its roots to Ancient Mesopotamian cultures. Many ancient cultures studied the stars, seeing in them patterns that are called constellations. These ancient astronomers were able to make predictable, annual turnings of the heavens that they could divide and mark for the passing of the Seasons and time. For the ancients, Astrology served as a precursor to Astronomy and they believed that by studying the heavens, they could foretell future events and even a person’s life path.
These ancient cultures would also meet and exchange ideas frequently and in this fashion, when the Greeks encountered the Persians, there was an exchange of knowledge regarding Astronomy that becomes the constellations and zodiacs so many know today. Eventually, there is no clear distinction between what ancient Mesopotamian Astronomers and Greeks Philosophers knew. Even in current, modern times, the influence of these ancients is still known.
The Capricornus or Capricorn constellation is Latin for “Goat-Horned.” This constellation is one of 48 constellations that were identified by Ptolemy, an astronomer who lived during the second century. In modern times, Capricornus is one of 88 known constellations and is bordered by the constellations of Aquila, Sagittarius, Microscopium, Piscis Austrinus and Aquarius. Many of the constellations bordering with Capricornus are water-related and are located in an area of the sky known as the Sea or Water. The latitude at which the Capricorn constellation appears overhead and can be seen by observers and star gazers is still known as the Tropic of Capricorn. This is when the sun is at its most southerly position during the Winter Solstice. The term also applies to the line on the Earth, on atlases that marks when the sun is directly over head at noon on the Winter Solstice.
In the Chinese system of Astronomy, the constellation Capricornus is located in The Black Tortoise of the North or Bei Fang Xuán Wu. Its name in modern Chinese is mó jié zuò, meaning “the rub ram constellation.”
Middle Eastern Astronomy
The Arabs, Persians, Turks and Syrians all knew of Capricornus as the Goat. In certain places of the Middle East, the constellation was known as the Southern Gate of the Sun, indicating that it is in this constellation that the Sun reached its lowest point in the solar year before the days become longer and the nights shorter.
Other Cultural Astronomy
The Nakh people call this constellation Negara Bjovnaš, the “Roofing Towers”
In the Society Islands, the figure of Capricornus is called Rua-o-Mere.
The planet Neptune was discovered in Capricornus by German astronomer Johann Galle, on September 23, 1846.
The constellation of Capricornus dates back to the ancient Babylonians and Sumaria. The first recordings and depictions of this constellation date to the 21st century B.C.E. before 1000 B.C.E. It was associated with the planet Saturn and the Mesopotamian god Enki, the Babylonian Ea. In the beginning, Enki was the God of the city Eridu. He was the god of artisanship, water, saltwater, lake water, intellect and creative activity. Enki or Ea was described as being fish-tailed and was called the “Antelope of the Sea.” He was seen as coming up from the abyss of the deep ocean teaching humans knowledge and the wisdom of the gods.
Enki’s symbols were the goat and fish that both combined into the sea-goat. This symbol of a goat-fish represented the great propriety of the buildings of Babylon out of the low, damp lands they were once located in. The horns of the goat represented the towns of Nineveh and Babylon built on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
The Capricorn constellation is called “šaxû ibex” in Babylonian. The sun in that month moves into the “suxûru” or fish constellation, which is called the star of Tashmetum, named after a goddess of Akkadian mythology. Tashmetum is the wife of the god known as Nabu. Nabu is the god of wisdom and writing in Babylonian legends. The ancient Babylonians revered Nabu because he was the son of Marduk and his wife, Sarpanitum. Finally, Enki or Ea is Nabu’s grandfather.
In one account of Greek mythology, this constellation is the symbol for Amalthea, the she-goat who nursed the god Zeus when he was an infant. Her broken horn that was used to feed Zeus was changed into the horn of plenty or cornucopia. A slight variation to this is that Amalthea is the name of the nymph who raised Zeus and took care of the goat that provided milk and nourishment for him. After Zeus had grown up and was able to over throw his father Cronus, Zeus placed Amalthea up in the heaven in thanks as the constellation of Capricornus.
The horns from Amalthea the goat later become the Horn of Plenty, or Cornucopia. It is also said that the association with cornucopia is because this is the period of time when the sun is resting and “nourishing itself” before moving northwards on its solar path across the heavens. This was also seen as a symbol of discipline.
In Greek mythology, Capricorn is known as Pan and he is usually portrayed as the son of Hermes. He had the upper half of a man and the legs of a goat. How Pan becomes associated with the constellation of Capricorn is that one day when Pan and the other Gods were down by the Nile River, they were attacked by the monster Typhon. The Gods all changed themselves into various animals and forms in order to escape. In the confusion and panic, Pan jumped into the Nile River, intending to change into a fish, but only his lower half changed while his upper half turned into a goat. When the other Gods saw this half-goat, half-fish form of Pans, they laughed so much and decided to place an image of it up among the stars where it becomes the Capricornus or Capricorn constellation.
This myth is called “Egyptian” by Gaius Julius Hyginus in his Poetic Astronomy and serves as a way to justify a connection of Greek-Roman Deities with those of Egypt. Something the Romans loved to do, equating all of their gods with those of other cultures. Pan is one example here, as some retellings of this story will call him Aegipan and depending on the source, some scholars will say that Aegipan is a separate deity from Pan, or that he is one of the Panes or many names by which Pan is known.
In a more elaborate retelling of the story of the Greek Gods versus Typhon, while the Gods did change into various animal forms, Zeus changed into the form of the ram, Aries and remained in this form for a while. Other gods like Aphrodite and Eros became a pair of fish that form the constellation of Pisces. Now Aegipan had also transformed himself into an animal to escape Typhon, but he was already halfway submerged in the Nile River when he finally decided what animal form he would be. He had decided to be a goat, but only from the waist up and a fish from the waist down. And its this result of indecision during panic and trying to escape that results in the familiar half-goat, half-fish from of Capricorn.
Zeus finally reappears back in his own form and battles against Typhon, but he was however defeated. Typhon proceeds then to cut out the tendons of Zeus’ hands and feet and therefore unable and helpless to move. Typhon hid the tendons in a cave in the land of Cilicia. The draconic being known as Delphyne, a half-serpent, half-woman creature was tasked by Typhon to guard Zeus’ tendons.
Between the gods Hermes and Aegipan, they were able to steal back Zeus’ tendons and return them so Zeus could become whole again. With his strength restored, Zeus was now able to battle Typhon again and this time, defeated him hurling thunderbolts at him. For Aegipan’s role in this battle the Titan, Zeus set the Capricorn constellation up in the stars to honor him.
Aegipan or Pan?
Well now that all depends… some scholars will say that Aegipan is a separate deity from Pan like Nomios and Phorbas who are collectively called the Panes. Other scholars will say that the Panes are merely different aspects of the same god, in this case, Pan. Additionally, Aegipan is sometimes said to be the father of Pan and not Hermes. It can create for a lot of confusion. Which is what Pan is good at and hence the origin of the word panic.
During the early Bronze Age, Capricornus marked the Winter Solstice, the day and time of year when the days are their shortest and the nights are at their longest. Due to the rotational axis shift of the Earth, around 130 B.C.E., the Winter Solstice occurs earlier and no longer in the Capricorn constellation. The solstice still marks the start of the astrological sign of Capricorn in the Zodiac with the sun in Sagittarius.
As of 2002, the Sun now appears in the constellation of Capricornus from January 19 to February 15. In tropical astrology, the Sun is in the sign Capricorn from December 22 to January 20, and in sidereal astrology, this time is from January 15 to February 15.
The constellation of Capricorn is the tenth sign of twelve signs that form the Zodiac. It is the second faintest constellation of the zodiac after the Cancer and can be seen at its brightest in September about four A.M. in the morning.
For those who study and are into the classical Greek Zodiacs, this time is typically said to be sometime from December 22 to January 19. Oftentimes, this is very close to the time and start of the Winter Solstice.
Capricorn is recognized by the name of the “Gate of Death” and is opposite to the constellation Cancer, the “Gate of Birth. “ Capricorn relates to the time the Sun embarks on the tenth part of its orbit and relates to a time of new knowledge. The planet Saturn is said to rule this Zodiacal sign and constellation. Its element is Earth, an introverted sign and is one of four cardinal signs.
Capricorn people or those born under this sign are thought to be well ground and capable of exercising a lot of discipline as needed. They make for great listeners due to their great patience. This ability allows Capricorns a good insight into the lives of other people, traditions and personal histories. They can be very cultured and knowledgeable about the world and society. Capricorns may also care a great deal about personal appearances and perceptions, always seeking to dress neatly or be very stylish. They can be seen as generous, interesting and tactful as dispensers of wisdom.