I think I’ve found a way to spot Mars in the night sky using Orion’s belt and then two stars.
We live on the fringe of a golf course, and the 6th tee is about thirty yards from our back door. Twice a day I walk out onto the tee box. At night, I stand there and take in the majesty — and I do mean majesty: a word we rarely use other than referring to Charles or Elizabeth and which we ought never use when speaking about individual humans in a hierarchical way but, instead, use universally about the majesty of our humanity and the Created Order around us — I take in the majesty of creation. When the stars are out, not only is it more pretty of course than on a cloudy night. It also is more humbling to me by far than standing in daylight. In daylight, I often feel massaged by Sun as that star lovingly warms what is around me. It lulls me to think that somehow I’m at the center. Night reminds me I’m not. And a starry night is a fearsome thing indeed.
Then in the morning — before coffee, before writing in my journal, before any sacred text reading, and certainly before social media and email — I walk out onto that same tee box and again I take in the majesty and also face my irrational fear of being alone outside at night.
Finding Mars is relatively easy now compared with remembering some of the star names.
In “Orion’s Belt” are, from “east to west” (for lack of a better way to describe their positions), Alnitak Alnilam and Mintaka. I just checked that link and, sure enough, NASA describes their relative position the same way (“east to west”). They are “blue supergiant” suns, more massive and powerful than ours. (That kind of makes one feel almost quaint, yes? To talk about “our sun” when so many other suns out there aren’t possessed at all. Most likely.) All three names are derived from Arabic words, and this makes me think of the three wise men and Zoroastrianism, which was an association bandied about when I was growing up in the 1960s and ’70s and before anyone speaking Arabic was considered a terrorist. It was also a time when much of popular Christianity could tolerate a non-Jewish “-ism” to be included in the Nativity story.
- Alnitak — from an nitaq, “the girdle.”
- Alnilam — from al Nitham or al Nathm, “the string of pearls.”
- Mintaka — from al Mintakah, “the belt.”
If I follow these stars from east to west I plot a course further to the west and then north until I find Bellatrix. “Bellatrix” means “female warrior,” and is likely derived from one of two words, both male nouns. Webster’s Dictionary says that “-trix” is a suffix that, when added to words, “forms a feminine noun of agency.” One thinks of “executrix” of an estate (vs. an executor). (The reddit generation has taken “dominatrix” and shortened it to “dom.” Much of language amongst them is abbreviated or even acronym’ed, made easy for texting. In fact, you can turn this entire post into a 572-letter acronym and text it to a friend. They will thank you. Try it.)
Yet being an “executrix,” ladies, is your nom (de guerre…see how I did that?) in only some states. Other states will make the person who executes a Last Will and Testament the “executor” and, effectively, rob women of their agency in such matters. Gender-fluidity — a liquidation of gender from noun to adjective — also robs the identifying person of their definition in the literal sense. I would think their desire would be the opposite. Of course, fluidity does allow one the freedom to sit at the head of the Thanksgiving table one year and at the kids’ table the next.
On the contrary, I like to think of words as ice crystals, branching off from a center and forming a pattern that can be traced back when looking exceedingly closely and with care not to melt their ancestral paths.
For more on this increasingly dull (to some) topic, go HERE. I, for one, hold my breath when searching for the root. One never knows what one will find. It is often a root word meaning something not so much male-dominated as true to its actual meaning, one which we shy from today for fear of losing friends or social media followers, which is to say the same thing. “Gentleman” comes to mind. It used to mean an Englishman of noble birth who owned land. Then it meant a man who was not only polite but polite specifically to women who wanted men to be polite. Then it meant a man who was polite to women who wanted men to be polite to women but not let anyone else know that she wanted that. Today, of course, it refers to a man who walks into an building with no windows at lunchtime carrying a hundred dollars in singles.
From Bellatrix, I fly across the north and veer slightly south until I hit Aldebaran. Yet another word that might be derived through Arabic and originally from the Latin. For more: HERE.
Finally, to Mars, I simply float a little northeast (?). At this point I have lost my sense of direction, because we use direction on a horizontal plane that is not easily tilted. Let me describe it this way: if last night I stood on that tee box facing toward Medina, Texas — which is an ironic posture for an Episcopalian to take when working with Arabic names — and look up, I see Orion’s Belt in the southwest at about 11 o’clock. (Which means, as you now know, that when I tell you in Kerrville, “let’s meet tomorrow at 1 o’clock,” what I am really saying is “let’s have an early breakfast in San Antonio.”)
I follow Bellatrix and Aldebaran by leaning back, and by the time I hit Mars, I’m pretty much looking straight up. Lunchtime in Kerrville. In the end, what we think of as “north” (and south and east and west) is still a self-centered orientation of the universe. It is “around” us. We are not “in it.” Copernicus is rolling in his grave.
This, of course, is one of the main reasons I go outside under the stars — quite alone at night and very alone first thing in the morning. I want to feel “in it” rather than it being “around me,” as I do in daytime. Lulled. (Included in the many etymologies of “lull” and its offspring “lullaby” is the Dutch word “lullen,” which means “to talk nonsense.”)
Instead of being lulled to sleep, I want to feel that irrational fear of being in the dark.
Henry Beston (1888-1968) wrote:
Our fantastic civilization has fallen out of touch with many aspects of nature, and with none more completely than night. Primitive folk, gathered at a cave mouth round a fire, do not fear night; they fear, rather, the energies and creatures to whom night gives power; we of the age of the machines, having delivered ourselves of nocturnal enemies, now have a dislike of night itself. With lights and ever more lights, we drive the holiness and beauty of night back to the forests and the sea; the little villages, the crossroads even, will have none of it.Henry Beston in The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod
Again, he writes:
For a moment of night we have a glimpse of ourselves and of our world islanded in its stream of stars — pilgrims of mortality, voyaging between horizons across eternal seas of space and time.
At night, or in early morning, I have nothing to fear except deer, a skunk, maybe a possum, or a stray cat. Yet the hairs on the back of my neck and on my arms actually do stand up. It is irrational. I am never in any danger. Ever. So I walk out there to the tee box to glory in the majesty of the deep navy blue sky and to face down that irrational fear, which is not a fear of anything external so much as it is a fear of what I might learn if I stand still for that one moment of night.