Light and Matter: the Perseid Meteor Shower

I am going to watch the Perseid meteor shower tonight. They are very fast moving meteors and they radiate from the constellation Perseus, and Perseus happens to be one of my beloved Greek heroes.

The birth of Perseus appears to have a lot to do with the miraculous meteor shower. I always find it fascinating when myth and the actual physical phenomena align like this. Perseus was mothered by Danae, a daughter of King Akrisios who ruled over the city of Argos. He had no son and wanted one badly, so he sought the oracle’s advice. The priestess at Delphi said to him that he would have a grandson, who would kill him. To prevent that Akrisios decided to lock his daughter in an underground chamber constructed of bronze. There was a small opening in the ceiling through which one night a golden rain, a shower of shimmering gold descended right onto Danae. It was Zeus (Roman Jupiter) who made Danae pregnant that night. A more magical conception is hardly imaginable.

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Léon-François Comerre, Danae

Why was the chamber made of bronze? There are never accidental images in myths, all have significance. Bronze is an alloy of tin and copper. In alchemy, tin was related to the planet Jupiter while copper to the planet Venus. Bronze is the favoured metal of bell makers. The sound of the bell is a symbol of creative power. The bell is a sacred object suspended between heaven and earth, and its role is to deliver the message from above to below. The clapper inside the bell is its ‘tongue’ – used to communicate the message of heaven to the earth. In Tibetan Buddhism the sound of the bell is supposed to drive away evil spirits while the sound of the bell is the voice of Buddha teaching dharma.

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The mythical story of Perseus makes a very interesting reading. His most famous feat was cutting off the monster Medusa’s head. He was assisted by Hermes in his quest. He led him to the three old crones called the Graiai, who had only one eye among them and only one tooth. He stole their eye and tooth and did not give it back until they revealed where Medusa (the serpent-haired Gorgon) was hiding. Other attributes of Perseus that he acquired with the help of Hermes were the winged sandals, an invisibility cap, a adamantine sickle, and a sack for holding bulky objects. He was not able to kill Medusa directly. Anyone who looked at the monster immediately turned to stone, so Perseus had to devise a way to kill her without looking at her and he managed it with the help of Athena, who presented him with a polished shield of bronze (!), which reflected the image of Medusa and was safe to look at.

In a brilliant essay called Lightness an Italian writer Italo Calvino attempts to retell the myth of Perseus in a new, fresh way. He writes:

To cut off Medusa’s head without being turned to stone, Perseus supports himself on the very lightest of things, the winds and the clouds, and fixes his gaze upon what can be revealed only by indirect vision, an image caught in a mirror. I am immediately tempted to see this myth as an allegory on the poet’s relationship to the world, a lesson in the method to follow when writing. But I know that any interpretation impoverishes the myth and suffocates it. With myths, one should not be in a hurry. It is better to let them settle into the memory, to stop and dwell on every detail, to reflect on them without losing touch with their language of images. The lesson we can learn from a myth lies in the literal narrative, not in what we add to it from the outside.

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Caput Algol; a fixed star in the constellation Perseus at 26 degrees Taurus

The relationship between Perseus and the Gorgon is a complex one and does not end with the beheading of the monster. Medusa’s blood gives birth to a winged horse, Pegasus—the heaviness of stone is transformed into its opposite. With one blow of his hoof on Mount Helicon, Pegasus makes a spring gush forth, where the Muses drink.

Pegasus, a winged horse, the patron of poetry was born out of Medusa’s blood. Art cannot be just light and airy – it is deeply rooted in the sensual world of matter and the body. Liz Greene calls the winged horse the bridge between opposites:  “an earthy creature which has the power to ascend into the spiritual realm.” Also, who fights demons if not poets?

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Peter Paul Rubens, Perseus and Andromeda (detail Pegasus) (source: http://www.mythindex.com/greek-mythology/P/Pegasus.html)

The whole mythological story of Perseus seems to weave together the alchemical marriage of the active and the passive principles: the feminine and the masculine, light and darkness, life and death, gentleness and violence, spirit and matter, fatedness and overcoming it with creating one’s destiny. I might retell the story of his love for Andromeda another time and how he fulfilled the Delphi prophesy and killed his grandfather. His life was full of passion with many dramatic twists and turns. His fate seems to have comprised two Zodiac signs: Gemini (his brilliant mind and airy lightness symbolized by the winged sandals, his cunningness) and Scorpio (heavy and dark themes, death, suffering and cruelty, slaying monsters), which happen to be opposites of respectively Sagittarius and Taurus. The sign Sagittarius is ruled by Jupiter, Taurus by Venus, which brings us back to Perseus’ parents. In an ingenious way the story of Perseus weaves together these four Zodiac signs. Even the four attributes that I mentioned above appear to be linked to these four signs: the winged sandals to Gemini, the adamantine sickle to Sagittarius (the Buddhist diamond mind that slices through illusion), the invisibility clock with Scorpio and the sack for bulky objects with Taurus. This is at least my interpretation and I would be interested to hear from others if it makes sense at all.

I will be thinking of Perseus while looking at the Perseids tonight. Since ancient times shooting stars have been considered as gifts from the gods. They were symbolic of light and illumination coming from above. It is wondrous how they look like balls of light but are in fact stones. Light in the matter.

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Source for the mythological content:

Richard P. Martin, Myths of the Ancient Greeks (I happen to love that book – the myths are told in a captivating manner, lots of dialogue and dynamic descriptions, they are accurate but there is no boring, scholarly baggage. I thoroughly recommend it.)

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72 Responses to Light and Matter: the Perseid Meteor Shower

  1. I learn so much from your entries. Thanks for that.

  2. Reblogged this on Busy Mind Thinking and commented:
    This is a site from which I learn. Have you visited my friend yet?

  3. I like your astrological insights and interpretation! As you show so well, myths are full of layers and layers of symbols.

  4. Oloriel says:

    This whole blog post was very insightfull and captivating, I am most glad I found it following a reblog from Belinda!

  5. congrats on reaching 200 followers: I nominated your blog for 2 awards. Please follow the link and congrats! http://lindalitebeing.wordpress.com/2013/08/11/take-one-for-the-versatile-team/

    • Thank you, Linda. It is always great to be liked or mentioned and I try my best to give back the love, but the requirements for these awards are just too much. Still, I am always happy, as I said.

  6. LadyBlueRose's Thoughts Into Words says:

    I grew up on mythology and the star constellations and the stories.
    you remind me of all the fun I had wandering through the stars and myths
    which I wonder if they are really parts of history from another realm that some
    crossed back and forth in….
    Wonderful post and I will be thinking of your words tonight to as I wander outside..
    Thank you for sharing…
    Take Care…
    )0(
    maryrose

    • Thank you, Maryrose (is this your real name, because it is really beautiful). I do not know whether myths are part of history, but they do carry deep truths, regardless.

      • LadyBlueRose's Thoughts Into Words says:

        yes its my name…thank you…
        I think all myths have truth if not someone’ long ago memories of their truth…..as they saw their world….for why would someone be so detailed in their story…
        I think people are so fearful of all they can’t see or hear that they prefer it to be fiction…
        I do think it was a part of history somewhere….
        I always enjoy your post…they feel good and of real energy….
        Thank you for sharing your thoughts…
        Take Care…
        )0(
        maryrose

      • Thank you, Maryrose, and I always feel good about your posts – they are so touchingly beautiful.

  7. ptero9 says:

    I so admire your knowledge of mythology and your insights! Thanks again for a great and timely post. Typically the summer night sky here in Oregon is pretty clear. Wouldn’t you know it, but the past few days have seen some clouds continuing into the night sky. No perseids tonight anyway, maybe tomorrow!

  8. Don says:

    Such a good post. The symbolic interpretation of Pegasus really struck me. I love the way you speak of the myth as an “alchemical marriage of the active and the passive principles.” So much to ponder on as I go into my day. Thank you.

  9. renatembell says:

    Beautiful post. Your symbolism of the four signs is excellent. Love the correlations and connections you find and share. Thank you

  10. what an encyclopedia of delicate knowledge of the myths – brian storming – i saw Perseus’ bronze statue at florence on a visit with the head of medusa in one hand sword in the other – reminded me of the godess Kali with the head of a demon in hers.

    • I always try to look for connections and for the source. I think you do, too. I am glad I sometimes make sense. And now I remember – I did see that statue of Perseus when I was in Florence.

  11. Beautiful telling of the mythology, as usual. I once went high into the mountains to watch the meteor showers with a friend. It was phenomenal. Colors red, blue and gold streaking by the thousands it the black inky sky. I wish I could get out to the desert, away from the city lights to see them.

  12. Yaz says:

    I wasn’t entirely sure what Italo Calvino was saying. he seemed to be contradicting himself.., . I feel also that these myths are absorbed into the psyche and translated there, though I don’t think they should be taken literally. Words trigger different responses in us and a metaphor can mean different things to different people at different times in our lives.

    I was also in Florence recently and stared at the statue of Davis for hours. I felt that was a metaphor for the human race and would love to hear your words on that some day. I love the angles that you come from. There’s always something that I just didn’t see!

    • “Myths are absorbed into the psyche and translated there” – I love that Yaz, this is so deeply true. Every interpretation of myth impoverishes it. My stay in Florence was not long enough to see David, which is a terrible pity because I had a long Michaelangelo adoration phase when I was younger. I long to go back there.

  13. There’s nothing quite like hearing those Tibetan bells in a monastery… they’re startling and comforting all at once.

  14. Reblogged this on muscleheaded and commented:
    A Fascinating Read — did anybody else catch the Perseid Shower?

  15. Have you read the VALIS trilogy, Monika? I think you’d get a big kick out of it. One of its main themes is the separation/union of spirit and body and how that manifests cross-culturally.

  16. I think your interpretation is interesting, combining Gemini and Scorpio, then also how you brought in Sagitarius and Taurus. Scorpio is ruled by Mars traditionally, so Mars and Mercury also makes sense with Perseus.

    • Thank you. Mars and Mercury also make sense, you are right. Liz Greene always writes about Medusa in connection with Scorpio. I wanted to write more about Medusa and Andromeda, actually, and I have even started already. I have found this article online by Demetra George:
      http://shedrums.com/Medusa.htm
      Do you happen to know whether it comes from a book of hers? It is really fascinating and my intuitions about Medusa were actually similar. I do need to read more of her work.

      • It may come from one of her Dark Goddess books. There is a Seattle astrologer I referenced in my Neptune-Jupiter article who also uses Hellenistic as well as is looking into even older techniques, and has also worked with Demetra George, named Kate Petty who wrote this on Medusa: http://ambientastrology.com/articles/2013/5/10/medusa
        She has a very different take on astrology in many ways from me and is rooted in more precise ancient techniques. She is not into Evolutionary Astrology or looking for past life issues for clients at all, for example, but has other interests with astrology that are similar to me and so is another person researching ancient techniques I’ve come into contact recently who is seeming to guide me into looking back more in time, especially older Babylonian (I’m interested in that at least), instead of being so focused as I have been on the late 20th Century influences. However, in the end I am with you in total agreement about how fascinating Dane Rudhyar is, and what has come after him through inspiration. For example, I believe Demetra George was influenced by him as well when she was younger. It is all very interesting to me. I would like to read more of your perspective on Medusa, for sure.

      • Thank you very much for the link. The excerpt by Demetra George comes from her book Mysteries of the Dark Moon. I need to read it even for myself and my natal dark moon phase. Right now I am reading Visions by Jung, which are transcripts from his Zurich seminars. They are brilliant but at times there are things he says about women that are simply appalling.

  17. shreejacob says:

    Great post!
    ” It is better to let them settle into the memory, to stop and dwell on every detail, to reflect on them without losing touch with their language of images. The lesson we can learn from a myth lies in the literal narrative, not in what we add to it from the outside.”….loved this part too!! 😀

  18. MartsArts Poetrypictures says:

    What about wordpress as a modern polished bronze mirror? What or who is Medusa than?

  19. MartsArts Poetrypictures says:

    Ha, thought so a bit. Mind your head 🙂 Looking forward to the one on Medusa. (And good luck next week with restarting your work).

  20. Pingback: The Tempestuous Loveliness of Terror: A Few Thoughts on Medusa | symbolreader

  21. Superlative. one of the most interesting blogs i have read. I enjoyed reading and look forward to more. Thank you for sharing. Just Brilliant. ~master’s slave

  22. I love how you’ve woven the bell together with Perseus and the 4 signs of the zodiac. I feel lucky that I found myself reading this post this morning. As an astrologer, I love working with symbols, too. Your knowledge of mythology is wonderfully and intelligently shared. In fact, I believe that the literal interpretation should not be lost upon the layers of art that we scaffold onto the bones of myth. There’s something timeless about the stories we tell… The mysteries continue to be reveled in, under the canopy of stars! Love, Ka @fiestaestrella (star party)

  23. skakos says:

    Great post. What do you think is the meaning of the “golden rain” in the beginning of this story?

      • skakos says:

        But still I see two points of interest here: Gold and the dark room in which Danae was locked in. The dark of the room could be related to the subconscious. As for the “gold”, I have read that this is somehow related to “father” but I see this as a too simplistic explanation.

      • Yes, I also think it is the light of solar consciousness, the alchemical gold drscending upon her. On one level we do say solar is masculine, lunar feminine – but only in symbolic terms. The true coniunctio happens within the individual psyche, regardless of gender. Thank you for the questions and making me reflect on this. I like how you noticed that the room was dark and how the divine logos penetrated it.

      • skakos says:

        And thank you for a nice site with great aesthetics (and content). I am sure will will speak again soon. Myths (μύθοι) are more than fairy tales (παρα-μύθια) as most people think. I would appreciate your comments in some related article I have written. All in good time…

      • Thank you for your kindness. If there is an article of yours you want me to read, do not hesitate to post a link here. I did a lot of philosophy at university and always found it fascinating, even the parts I disagreed with, such as Descartes. In my final year we read a lot of Heidegger and Wittgenstein, whom I both found fascinating, but with Heidegger there are so many issues, as you are probably well aware…

    • skakos says:

      I discard the political issues with Heidegger. For me it is absolutely fascinating the fact that he had the courage to wander about a question we all thought was answered. Being and existence is what penetrates our very selves and yet we cannot see what these words even mean. You can find some of my articles at http://harmoniaphilosophica.wordpress.com/main-articles/ or at http://harmonia-philosophica.blogspot.gr/2011/11/harmonia-philosophica-main-articles.html. I would rather not dare suggest a particular one yet. Let us trust luck and see where it gets us…

  24. Reblogged this on symbolreader and commented:

    This year has been announced to be perfect to watch the Perseid meteor shower because the moon will be dark. This shooting start feast usually peaks around 10-13 August (http://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/earthskys-meteor-shower-guide#perseids). I am reposting my own writing about the symbolism of Perseids from August 2013.

  25. Wonderful post, Monika. Where I live usually precludes one from seeing the Perseid meteor shower. It always seems to be cloudy in the West of Scotland in mid-August. However I hope to see it sometime before I leave this world!

    • Dear Anne,
      I wrote this two years ago, when I had seen a spectacular meteor shower. This year I have not been so lucky, but I have seen some.
      Thank you very much for your kind words.
      Monika

  26. Pingback: ►Greek Mythology: “Pegasus, The Winged Horse”🐎.- | La Audacia de Aquiles

  27. Pingback: How Does Perspective Change When You’re Feeling As If You’re Living On A Wavelength Different From Others – Seraphin Perihelion

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