World Beneath Worlds: the Astronomy, Mythology, and Poetry of Eridanus

Sharing this again from last year. There’s also a recording of the lesson on the IPS website. Now my disembodied voice travels around and tells this story to people I’ll never meet: I am one of two 1st prize finalists for the Pages of Stars competition by the International Planetarium Society, The Astronomical Observatory Zerafino Zani and The Mobile Planetarium Committee for 2021. So honored to combine literary arts, mythology and astronomy, especially for the occasion of use as a teaching tool. I hope people enjoy it. I am thrilled to have this opportunity! Thank you 🙌

“World Beneath Worlds” is an original poem, appearing in my 2022 self-published chapbook, Unraveling, under the pen name Anjelika Keisuke. It is about dreams and how we project ourselves out into the universe as well as the universe projected within us. I was influenced by Joseph Campbell’s “Inner Reaches of Outer Space” and wrote this piece while reflecting upon its themes of myth and space exploration. The poem is partly inspired by Frank Herbert’s science fiction classic, “Dune”, which follows the Hero’s Journey of Campbell’s studies. The references to water represent the fluid nature of circumstance and how ideas take on a life of their own. Much like the chaos of the universe, the results are dependent upon the context or container of circumstance into which the ideas, or “unspoken dances”, are thrown. The “City” whose “connections entwine at nightfall” is the Milky Way, and the “severed streams” are Eridanus. There are many reasons why Eridanus, “The River”, is an allegory for the human story. The constellation itself is located at the foot of Orion, who just as well may be a representation of the ill-fated Phaeton. The myth of Phaeton refers to Eridanus. Phaeton’s opportunity to run his father Helios’ chariot turns tragic when he loses control of the reigns and is struck down by Zeus’ thunderbolt. Phaeton fell into the river Eridanus and perished, which causes his father to cease riding his solar chariot and plunges the world into darkness for days. The name Eridanus may be based on the Babylonian for the Star of Eridu. Eridu was a city held sacred to their god Enki-Ea, ruler of the cosmic Abyss.

NOTE: Since its publication, I’ve come across other connections to Eridanus and the ancient peoples of Iran while researching the history of Iran. The ancient Indo-Iranian/Avestan goddess, Aredvi Sura Anahita, “Lady of the Waters” is the patron deity of what would become Eridu in pre-Babylonian Persia and thusly, of the constellation Eridanus. Wikipedia: According to H. Lommel, the proper name of the divinity in Indo-Iranian times was Sarasvatī, which also means “she who possesses waters”. In Sanskrit, the name आर्द्रावी शूरा अनाहिता (Ārdrāvī Śūrā Anāhitā) means “of the waters, mighty, and immaculate”. Like the Vedic Sarasvatī, Goddess of Rivers, Anāhitā nurtures crops and herds; and she is hailed both as a divinity and as the mythical river which she personifies, “as great in bigness as all these waters which flow forth upon the earth (Yasht 5.3), and which seems to me a direct analogy to the heavenly river now known as Eridanus: “The large river, known afar, that is as large as the whole of the waters that run along the earth; that runs powerfully from the height Hukairya down to the sea Vouru-Kasha.” Hukairya, the legendary mountain has given its name to two prominent physical features of the world: In Middle PersianHarā Bərəzaitī came to be identified with HarborzModern Persian Alborz, a range in northern Iran, which parallels the southern edge of the Caspian Sea; and Mount Elbrus in the Caucasus range, near the border of Russia and Georgia, as well as a number of other high mountains throughout the Iranian Plateau. From this mountain flows the rivers to join as Vourukasha. According to the Vendidad, Ahura Mazda sent the clean waters of Vourukasha down to the earth in order to cleanse the world and sent the water back to the heavenly sea Puitika. This phenomenon was later interpreted as the coming and going of the tide. At the centre of Vourukasha was located the Harvisptokhm or “tree of all seeds” which contain the seeds of all plants in the world. There is a bird Sinamru, also known as the Simurgh or Huma, on the tree, which causes the bough to break and seeds to sprinkle all around when the bird self-immolates. The word was lent to Armenian as siramarg (սիրամարգ) “peacock”, the patron animal of Sarasvati. It is notable that the constellation Pavo is in the southern hemisphere, below Eridanus; although, this is more than likely a coincidence.

Here, Eridanus is both a mythical river and the sixth largest constellation. Notable stars in Eridanus include Achernar, from the Arabic for “end of the river”, one of the brightest stars in the night sky; Cursa, a white giant that marks the footrest of Orion; Acamar, a binary star that marked the end of Eridanus during the time of Ptolemy; and Epsilon Eridani, one of the nearest stars visible to the naked eye that also hosts a confirmed exoplanet. Eridanus is the home of the CMB Cold Spot, also known as the Eridanus Supervoid or the “Endless land” in the poem, and is the largest void ever discovered; the Eridanus Group of galaxies; and the Witch Head Nebula, a reflection nebula lit up by the lucent glow of Rigel in the adjacent constellation of Orion. Here is my poem:

WORLD BENEATH WORLDS

Meet me in the world beneath worlds,

where the unspoken dances

of the living and unliving

mingle into the place of dreams

and write verses of their own.

Into the Endless Land of wind and fury,

where connections entwine at nightfall

as the City grows and stretches,

and yet, the twines cannot ever be broken.

Let us meet there,

between the severed streams,

the unsunned beams of delight.

An allegory, yet powerful,

ever inscribed within each Being.

And when we do meet,

hand in hand,

desert skin cracked and thirsting;

may our waters join together

and finally release, each form upon form,

to grow this garden

with eyes closed to the world.

NGC 1487. NASA, ESA

REFERENCES:

Eridanus

https://www.constellation-guide.com/constellation-list/eridanus-constellation/

IPS Pages of Stars

https://www.ips-planetarium.org/page/pagesofstars

NGC 1487

https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/goddard/2016/hubble-views-merging-galaxies-in-eridanus

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s