Orion the hunter, followed by his faithful hunting dog Canis Major — both perpetually chasing their prey, mighty Taurus the Bull — have dominated the sky all winter long. But now these characters are setting shortly after sunset, replaced from the East by less severe constellations like Canis Minor (the little dog), Leo the Lion and Virgo the Virgin.
This changing of the guard is a sure sign that spring really is in the air. It’s hard to knock astrology in this regard.
Year after year, it’s cold and dark when Orion hunts high in the sky in the middle of the night. But the days always grow lighter and longer by the time he has chased his prey to the western horizon in the early evening.
A most famous astrological connection is that between the annual flooding of the Nile River in Egypt and the brightest nighttime star: Sirius.
Sirius marks the nose of Orion’s hunting dog Canis Major. This time of year, Sirius is easily spotted in the Southwest an hour or two after sunset, an outstretched hand or two down and to the left of Orion.
Every year beginning in August and running into September, the Nile River spills over its banks and floods the plains through which it runs.
These plains have been fertile farm lands for thousands of years, and the flooding of the Nile has long punctuated the calendar of civilizations settled in the Nile River valley.
An ancient Egyptian farmer would need to be ready to plant after the flood of the Nile and must be sure to harvest before the next.
The bright star Sirius foretold the flood of the Nile. About 5,000 years ago, the bright star Sirius underwent what is called its helical rising — that is, Sirius rose with the sun – in early September.
Short term weather clues can be misleading — like weeklong stretches of below-freezing nights in early spring. But ancient Egyptian farmers could know that the Nile flood was eminent when Sirius rises with the sun, regardless of the prevailing weather.
In modern times, Sirius’ heliacal rising is in the very beginning of August, some weeks before the flooding of the Nile.
All the signs have drifted since the hay days of astrology. The drift is caused by the slow wobble of Earth’s rotational axis. Today, for example, Polaris in the Big Dipper is the North Star, but 12,000 years ago, Vega in the constellation Lyra was the North Star.
Our astrological or birth signs have drifted, too.
Born in late September, I’m a Libra, making me inclined to doggedly seek balance in my life — but yet never to achieve it.
True enough, I do seem to seek balance without achieving it, but on the day I was born, the sun was in the constellation Virgo.
Astrology — the study of connections between arrangements in the heavens and our affairs on Earth — is not without merit, however, especially if cause is not attributed to these arrangements.
Maybe I am the way I am less because the sun was in a certain constellation on the day I was born and more because I suffered my first midwestern winter during the most formative first six months of my life.
Maybe my lively and more cheerful wife, a Gemini who reaches a milestone birthday this year in late May, is the way she is because she spent her first months laying on a blanket in the warm sun picking at grass leaves and playing with lady bugs.
— By Doug Furton/"What's Up" Columnist