But if the Bird hoped to make its nest atop the real ‘Mountain’ of all this—or highest branch of our ever-growing Tree (see July 28th blog)—it was soon advised that in order to get there, it would have to fly clear up among the stars!
We may suppose that this new development came about something like this.
People had no sooner turned their attention to that Great Wet Windstorm in the Sky, than some began to find themselves lying awake half the night staring at all those twinkling lights overhead and wondering whether there might be anything else of importance going on up there—and shortly made a startling discovery.
For as they gazed up at the stars night after night, they soon noticed that they appeared to be moving. And in fact, before long they realized that they were all moving in the same direction that the moon moved—and the sun too, during the day: east to west.
And wondering what that was all about, they turned their gaze east—only to find more stars continually coming over that horizon; which of course, now made them want to stay awake all night, for howsoever many that it might take for them to make sense of all this!
But then, how to make sense of the myriad stars?
Then someone had an idea: they simply began to note the more prominent ones as they appeared or ‘came out’ each evening; divided the rest into small, manageable groups centered on those; and then marked these ‘constellations’ in their consciousness by associating them with things already familiar to them—that is, the Hunter would come out over there, the Deer over there, the Fish over there, and so forth—until finally, they found themself able to find their way around the whole celestial place from one night to the next!
However, pretty soon they ran into a problem; for as they kept working with these constellations night after night—sharpening them in their imagination, memorizing their various locations in the sky, and so forth—they found that they not only moved westward during the night, but each night, would come out a little further west than the night before.
Meaning that after all their hard work, their original ‘eastern’ constellations would eventually come out way over on the western horizon and then just slide below it; after which, they’d no longer come out at all—as though they’d simply gone away, or died.
And so imagine their surprise many nights later when they saw what certainly appeared to be those very same constellations climbing back into the sky over the eastern horizon—albeit now, just before dawn!
So now if only to verify their sanity after all their constant stargazing, they began recording each one’s arrival by scratching some symbol of it on a big rock or something; until in time, they produced the world’s first ‘calendar’ of what turned out to be a fully three hundred sixty-five night stellar round—and thus established the exact length of the year, or seasonal cycle itself.
And over the next few years, as they carefully checked and re-checked all that, they not only verified their sanity, but discovered that the arrival of this one constellation—which would eventually come to be known by some people as the Pleiades—invariably coincided with the start of the rainy season, and thus the start of the new agricultural year!
Meaning—they went on to reason—that those circling stars up there were what really brought the rain; ultimately fertilizing the earth, and no doubt bringing about many other things else that they’d never quite been able to explain before!
All of which naturally generated some new beliefs, stories, and customs.
For instance, people were informed that they should now lift their newborn to the east—preferably at eventide, just as the stars were starting to come out; that they should face that direction when uttering their prayers, again best at eventide; that they should situate their village on the river’s eastern shore, but carefully entomb their dead over on the western—and to never, under any circumstances enter either their own home or anyone else’s, or even some overnight encampment from the west, lest they only bring everyone in the vicinity bad luck!
But of course, there eventually turned out to be a lot more to all this than just east and west.
For as people continued their eastern observation, in time they became aware of a few stars—way off to their left—that never left the sky at all; but just remained in the same general area—barely above the northern horizon—all year.
And curiously turning toward the most stable of these, or the ‘North Star’ as apparently the only fixed point in the entire night sky—why of course, they found the east at their right hand, and the west at their left.
And so it was declared that people should always eat, do their work, carry their weapons, welcome strangers, make their marks and so forth with their right hand, but wash away their grime, wipe their bottoms, carry out the waste, bury their dead and so forth with their left.
And in fact, they should make their marks right to left, seat honored guests at the right, claim that they had the ‘right’ to do this and that, and refer to the established order as lying at the right side of the political spectrum, while decrying any radical movement therefrom as leftward in spirit—you know?
Granted that there would always be a few left-handers around who for the life of them, couldn’t seem to get the hang of it!
Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend, 2 vol., ed. Maria Leach, 1949
Wikipedia, History of Astronomy https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_astronomy#Early_history