Orion, Betelgeuse and a Dwarf go up a Mountain

In one of the many tales regarding Orion, I just love this one, and it puts a whole new spin on Betelgeuse in my mind…

Orion had inherited a few things from his fathers Zeus, Hermes and Poseidon. He was handsome, athletic, could walk on water, and was the size of a giant. But he also inherited a few less welcoming traits … he was something of a brute, and believed he could get whatever he wanted. And what he wanted as he became a young man, was Merope – the daughter of the King of Chios – who we know better as one of the Pleiades.

In order to win her hand, Orion, with his trusty hunting dogs, hunted and killed every wild animal in the kingdom of Chios, but still the King was still not prepared to hand over his daughter. So one night, Orion, lustful after several flagons of wine, climbed up into Merope’s bedroom and raped her.

The King was furious, and called on the gods to take revenge – and one heard – the God of Darkness, Erebus, who crept up on Orion while he was sleeping and slashed his eyes – blinding him.

When Orion woke to find himself blind he was mortified – not because he realized his terrible deeds, but because he was furious at the King for having punished him, and he needed his eyes back to seek revenge.

So he sought out Hephaestus, the god of fire and masonry to help him. Hephaestus gave Orion his son, the dwarf Cedalion, to carry on his shoulder to act as his eyes, and told them to head to the highest mountain on Earth to wait for the Goddess of dawn, Aurora, who would return his sight.

I love this picture depicting Orion, his loyal sidekick, Sirius the dog, and Cedalion the dwarf on his shoulder from the 1971 book “Stories of the Stars” by Denise Vale. This story and image now make me reconsider Betelgeuse as the shoulder of Orion – what if, instead, Betelgeuse is the head of Cedalion, aloft Orion’s shoulder, bathed in the bright orange glow of dawn?

Part of the Never-Ending Story

This image of Orion and its Cloud Complex by Rogelio Bernal Andreo has got me transfixed this week. Orion the mighty Hunter and his belt is such a familiar constellation to us that we often don’t even pause to wonder what secrets it may be holding, and yet here in this mosaic, stitched together so beautifully, we can see just how wondrous Orion really is.

There is Barnard’s Loop – that red gaseous crescent moon shape on the left. There’s the Witch’s Head Nebula down in the lower right that I’m still not quite certain isn’t Falkor the Luck Dragon flying our hero Atreyu through the universe.

Just above the left-hand star of Orion’s Belt (Alnitak) we find the Flame Nebula, and just under it, the eerie Horsehead Nebula emerging out of the dark. And then in the lower centre, the incredible Great Orion Nebula we can even see with our naked eye.

But this is just scratching the surface. There’s an open cluster of stars, three of which are perfectly aligned north to south, Collinder 69, that lie in the face of Orion  – when was the last time we even gazed upon our Hunter’s face? And then the Reflection Nebula… The list goes on and on.

It is the myth of these constellations that really lights a fire in my heart, and Orion, seen the world over, has birthed thousands of tales and legends. Looking at this image one can’t possibly help but think of Orion as mythic. And it raises the question, what is myth? Does it have to be an ancient tale of a great Hunter who, in his pride, was stung by a scorpion? Or a tale of a Belt that in the South Pacific is instead a canoe taking fishermen heroes out to sea?

What if a myth is also a story of an exploding star (did you know Betelgeuse, that red star on the left shoulder of Orion may explode as a supernova in the relatively near future and that humans on Earth will see it?), or a tale of how humans saw an eerie horse or witch’s head in the sky above? Or, of a face that is rarely looked at yet wears three distinguished stars across a cheek… Where does the myth end and where does it begin? Or perhaps, what we discover is that it is all a myth. Life throughout space and across time is simply a beautiful, fantastical, unimaginable, rich mosaic of a story, and how lucky we are to be part of it.