The Frightful Starry Night

Light pollution here in the 21st century, especially in metropolitan areas, obfuscates the sky that I remember seeing as a child standing in my backyard on a warm summer night. I haven’t seen the Milky Way in years. Not only the light, but cloudy skies often hide even the Moon. Still, in far away places, the evening sky is as star-studded as it was 3000 years ago. It is as if one could reach out and grab a star!

Yet  that same magnificence, I would imagine, brings with it a sense of fear especially to indigenous people who do not understand the universe as scientifically as I. Superstitions develop from that awe as well as taboos. In the early 80’s I was standing outside at night with a 10-year-old refugee boy from the mountains of Laos. I pointed at the beautiful moonrise on the eastern horizon. Quickly the boy told me, “Don’t point at the Moon- your ear will fall off!” 

I think back on the primitive, non-scientific minds of the people observing that wonderous star-filled sky each evening which loomed overhead. To us on those rare moments of seeing it great beauty shines in our eyes. However, I suspect that three millenia past, beauty may have taken a backseat to fear. The vulnerability under that massive dome of stars could have been terrifying for many. 

What gods, demons or dangerous characters might swoop down from these heavens and curse or kill those helpless people during that long evening! There was no defense against these nighttime terrors. Except religious chants, totems, statues, beads, candles, fire or incense.  The same devil-warding measures that are still functional in religious rites today.

Scientists report that the Sky Monsters are gone. Twenty-first century urban dwellers no longer see the night sky. Night and day are virtually the same to the modern eye. Religious salve that once soothed the unlearned no longer is effective. The shaman is unemployed. Heaven appears light-years beyond. Over the Rainbow. Somewhere in a galaxy far away!


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