Something Bigger; Perseus and the Perseids

Metaphorcast for 8/9-15, 2021

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Leave it to the Leo new moon that came Sunday to set this week’s stage for optimal drama.  As the sky darkens, just like lights in a theater, the curtains lift to reveal a wondrous sight.  The annual Perseid Meteor shower, with its peak activity on Thursday and Friday, August 12th and 13th.

Perhaps the most well-known meteor shower of the Northern Hemisphere, the Perseids will radiate out of the constellation of Perseus, the Greek hero, best known for his slaying of Medusa.  

If you get the chance to see these radiant lights one of these nights (and after midnight is best with the widest amount of sky), keep in mind that what you are seeing is but a trail of something much much bigger.

Once deemed “the single most dangerous object known to humanity”, the comet Swift-Tuttle is what is known as the parent body of the Perseid meteor shower.  This comet has an orbit of 133 years around the sun, and it makes repeated close approaches to our Earth-Moon system.  Comet Swift-Tuttle made an appearance in our night sky in 1992, and is slated to make another in 2126.  The beautiful golden shower that we witness each year in these dog days of summer is but this comet’s debris.  As we ‘eat it’s dust’, so to speak, we also have the dignified pleasure of observing something radiant.  Something that for a moment, reminds us in so many ways of something bigger.

Joseph Campbell’s definition of a hero is “someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.”

The stars above are reminders of a vast world of light, one that endures beyond the day of sun and the night of moon.  To behold a meteor shower against a dark summer night sky is to go beyond the world of day and night, beyond the mind and its tendency to break things into smaller pieces.  

Perseus is a hero who seeks to go beyond the mind’s limits, in search of something bigger.  

In his book, The Reflexive Universe, cosmologist Arthur M Young points out that Perseus’ slaying of Medusa exemplifies the trap of mind.  Medusa’s hair of snakes shows the powers of mind.  Her effect on turning people to stone is the effect of the mind as it objectifies things and makes them inert.  To deal with this problem, Perseus meets her gaze in a mirror, which is another symbol of mind as it is one step removed from the immediacy of experience.  With this ‘distance’ he is able to slay her.  In doing this he proves that “mind is the slayer of the real” and “only the mind can slay the slayer” as the Zen teachings put it.  

Mind slays the real by turning it into stone, objectifying non-objectifiable things like magnitude, beauty and truth.  The universe may be measurable, but the magnitude that it points to is beyond measure.  It is only our Medusa-within that could render such a space into stone.  But if we, like Perseus, can use our own minds to slay such a deadening tendency, we may be lucky enough to witness and experience something bigger.  

Happy star-gazing, remember to give your eyes at least 20 minutes to adjust to the light.  The best hours of viewing will be from midnight to dawn.

As always, happy astro pondering.

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