Driving home about 9 p.m. this evening, the sight of a familiar constellation in the Eastern sky warmed my heart. Orion the Hunter is the first star picture I learned to identify as a child and has remained my winter guardian for each year since. I cannot explain why the sight of it is so reassuring to me in the starlit sky; perhaps it is the continuing reassurance that no matter how many twists and turns life takes there are still constants. The sun will always rise, the moon will go through its phases, and Orion will stand watch over my winters.
Orion is one of the easiest to find. It looks like a big box-kite high in winter’s southeastern sky. It’s on the celestial equator, meaning it’s visible around the word. It’s second only to the Big Dipper in size and I love introducing the wonder of Orion to each generation of child sky-watchers in my care. We share a view that has been shared by generations through time.
Two of the brightest stars in the evening sky are at opposite corners of the rectangle. The bright red Betelgeuse is at the northeastern corner (I winced at the pronounciation as Beetle-juice in the silly Michael Keaton movie of the same name). Rigel, at the southwest corner, is even brighter. Cinching the center is a short, diagonal row of stars that make up the hunter’s belt, and extending south is a faint row of stars in his sword. One of the objects in Orion’s sword is actually a nebula, a cloud of gas from young stars and dust, like a giant fluorescent bulb.
Like every constellation born in mythology, Orion has many versions of his story. What I learned as a child was that Orion was a warrior in 500 B.C. in Greece. He was the son of Poseidon, God of the Seas. Orion boasted that he had such might and skill as a hunter that he could kill all the animals on the face of the Earth. Gaea, Goddess of Earth, was worried that the warrior would carry out his threat against earth’s creatures and decided he must be killed. A giant scorpion was sent to battle Orion and the hunter succumbed to a deadly sting on the heel. Orion and Scorpios, the scorpion, were given honored places in the sky, at opposite ends of the great sky dome so that they would never battle again.
For me, it is a sign that winter is truly coming and on clear nights Orion will shine with the bright Christmas lights below. By winter’s end, I am longing for the coming of spring but it is bitter-sweet for me because each day Orion slips lower into the western sky, soon to disappear from my view. The comforting thing is, my warrior and protector will be back to light my winter darkness yet again. Thank you, God, for the subtle reminder that You are in control and everything is moving as it should.