The Stars Dance

When I decided to read through the 1992 drawing of the Rune Rock inscription, I found myself one step deeper into mystery and history. I read the runes from the top down, and from left to right following the structure of the Externsteine outcropping.  The 1992 rune inscription iwas quite clear in directing its readers to watch the stars.


The first column tells me:

Be silent

within the rain

is the spark

The second column tells me:

of the song

and the story

that fuel the torch of desire

the third column tells me:

the stars dance

destiny weaves

form manifests

The fourth column tells me:

the torch expires

the sun rises

justice thunders

the fifth column tells me:

The birth

of the Shining Knight

in the Heavens

the sixth column tells me:

takes root on earth

Destiny unfolds

Heaven and Earth unite

The rune inscription is remarkably close to the stories of the conception and birth of the legendary King Arthur whose father was smuggled in to make love to his mother on a stormy night and whose birth heralded the creation of the Round Table. Since one of the few undisputed facts about the Externsteine is that there is no evidence that there was ever a long-term community living there, it was most likely a place of pilgrimage. The Medieval Church made sure to claim it, but even at its peak, only a few hermits actually lived there. S

When I understood the 1992 inscription emphasized that ceremony should be timed to the movements of the heavens, I had two questions. One has percolated in the back of my mind for years, and that is how would people track the changes in the skies when they are traveling? If you are sleeping in a different place every night, you can not track the sun and moon against the horizon.

Travelers would have to know the stars well enough to follow the movements of the sun, the moon and the planets against the night sky. My next question was how would I find out which stars would give that kind of information. I decided that the medieval astrolabe might give me an inkling of how sailors, druids, wizards, and pilgrims of that time saw the night sky. I knew I would have to adapt that information to the present time, because the stars move one degree along the horizon every 72 years.  The famed Mayan baktuns or Long Count that just completed a full cycle in 2012 tracks that movement over approximately 26,000 years (72 years times 365 degrees).  It took wading through endless astronomical, astrological, and mythological trivia, but I not only found the four Royal Stars that marked the four corners of the heavens, I found four stars that marked the quarter days that distinguish the Celtic calendar.

The sun used to rise at with the four Royal Stars on both equinox and the solstices. Because of the movement of the stars  along the horizon, the sun and stars have moved out of synch with each other. Astronomers ridicule astrologers in part because their map of the heavens is so far out of date. They still attribute to spring equinox to Ares and the sun has not risen in that constellation for millenia. However, the astrologers are trying to catch up. The Dawning of the Age of Aquarius means that on the spring equinox the sun will rise in the constellation of Aquarius.The next time they line up perfectly will be in about a thousand years.

The Royal Star of Aquarius is called Fomalhaut. Its name translates as the Fish’s Mouth. Although the name is Arabic it doesn’t make much sense until you know that the star sits on the horizon in the far north. It is also part of an obscure constellation called the Winter Hexagon. When a fish breaks  the surface of the water, rings ripples out from that point and there are a number of northern European stories of a magical fish that brings a ring up to the surface of the waters. The next Royal Star is Aldebaran as the Eye of the Bull in Taurus. Soon the summer solstice will be marked by the Bull, while Regulus in Leo and Antares in Scorpio mark the fall equinox and the winter solstice. Each of those also has its stories, as do the four stars that mark the quarter days of the Celtic year.

What took me by surprise was realizing that each of these eight stars was regularly occulted, or hidden, by the moon. We  tend to give the sun prime importance, but these people followed the dance between the moon and the stars with great attention to detail.  We have a lot to relearn about pragmatic sky watching, and I do not want to lose people in the details, so I have some challenges in writing about this.

Very simply put, just as the length of the day  and the path of the sun vary throughout the year, so does the path of the moon and the length of time it is in the sky.  Since the path of the moon varies throughout the year, at different times it will rise at the same time and in the same place as one of these eight stars.The star will be hidden behind the moon. A crescent moon will make the occultation more dramatic, as the star will appear to emerge from out of the night sky.

Both the sun and the moon are highest in the sky  and visible for the longest period of time at the summer solstice. There is a circular window about 20″ across at the top of one of the pillars of the Externsteine that is oriented towards the northeast.  While the window does line up with the summer solstice sunrise, it is much larger opening than is found in most archeo-astrological sites oriented towards the sun. It is, however, a perfect size to frame the rising moon.


So our hypothetical pilgrimage would be timed to be at the Externsteine on the day that the rising moon would fill the window. Since Bronze age megalithic monuments in  British Isles are often oriented towards this time, also called the major lunar standstill, this is entirely plausible.It would also explain the interest of the Medieval Church in the site. Carving the crucifixion of Christ on a pagan site that tracks the activity of the moon makes sense, as the day Easter is celebrated depends on the lunar cycle.

My interests are more in the pagan direction however, and when I looked at the mythology associated with the eight occulted stars I began to see a possibility that the many versions of the journey of the questing knight rose out of a pilgrimage that followed the path of the moon as it passed in front of these specific stars. The outer journey of a pilgrimage usually arises from an inner and visionary journey, so I began to look at how to coordinate these two story lines. The medieval German author Wolfram von Eschenbach insists that Parzival’s story is written in the stars and there is speculation that the Externsteine is the hermits cave in he takes refuge in his search to return to the Grail Castle. Following his lead on this archeo-astronomical journey is illuminating:

click for for the beginning or for more on Wolfram


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