Category: Star Myths (Page 1 of 3)

Constellations and Psychedelics: Did Ancient Shamanic Techniques Enhance Stargazing?

How did the constellations come to be? At what point did ancient peoples decide to connect the dots and draw lines between the stars to form pictures and symbols?

The thought occurred to me that ancient shamans would have perhaps aided their stargazing experience with mind-altering herbs or mushrooms, and that this may have helped in the creation of constellations. We know that shamans and cultists worldwide have deployed a wide variety of shamanic techniques, with or without the use of psychedelics, to achieve altered states of awareness.

There is also evidence that the mythology of ancient cultures all over the world have linked their myths and beliefs to the constellations. Norse myth is no exception. Göbekli Tepe in modern-day Turkey – the world’s oldest expression of religion to date – seems to be aligned to the stars; the animals on its pillars reflecting the constellations in the sky.

If both vision journeys and stargazing were an important part of ancient belief, then how did the two come together? How did they evolve or co-evolve? I wondered if the use of a particular psychedelic could even have the effect of making visible lines appear between stars, forming psychedelic-induced constellations. This was just an idea, but as it turns out, there seems to be a reality to it.

Since I have no direct experience of the effects of psychedelics myself, let alone in combination with stargazing, I would have to rely on the experiences of others. If I could find multiple independent reports of the effects I had in mind, then there could be something to this idea. So I did a search query on Google, and already on the first hit, I found exactly the thing I was looking for.

Stargazing at the Milky Way band
The combination of stargazing and LSD is apparently a famous one in the psychedelic community. Could psychedelics have helped in the creation of the first constellations? Photo of the Milky Way by the ESO (source)

Lines Connecting the Stars

Multiple threads popped up in my search engine about the experiences that people have had when they combined the effects of psychedelics with gazing at the stars. One of the effects mentioned, and confirmed by multiple others, is the sensation of lines forming between stars. Could this have played a part in the origin of our constellations?

I am not urging people here to try psychedelics for themselves, but I do think that they have their benefits when used in a responsible way. And likely, they have played an important part in the development of culture, religion, and science from the ancient world until now – an idea that is still not very popular with the establishment.

In finding out the origins of our traditions and beliefs, no stone can be left unturned. Let’s look at some of the experiences that people have had when combining stargazing with LSD. The first is from this Reddit thread:

“I live up in North Idaho, in a small community that has hardly any people. Light pollution is very low so the stars, in September, are extremely vibrant and you can see the “milky” appearance [of] our Milky Way galaxy. Anyway, several of my friends and I were up on a high mountain peak, each of us tripping off probably 350μg – 450μg of LSD and we all took several dabs.”

It’s true that in the mountains, and in regions with little to no light pollution, many more stars can be seen, and also the band of the Milky Way can become visible to the naked eye. After exiting the car, the user lay down on the cold gravel, together with friends, to look at the stars:

“I got this crazy feeling, that I could feel our planet moving through space as if I was on some amusement ride. The stars in the sky almost appeared a reddish color to me ( I’m very colorblind, not that I think it has anything really to do with it) and I could see the sky shifting […]

I started to really concentrate on the Big Dipper, at the star at the front of the ladle . I would try to stare at it and not look away at all for a minute or two at a time. What really hit me, was I saw whitish lines that were connecting all the stars. Sort of like a connect the dots game. The more I thought about it, the more I saw it. 

I had a trip on mushrooms, roughly 3 grams was consumed, where I had the same experience with the lines between the stars.”

Here we have the first mention of “whitish lines” appearing and forming connections between the stars. In the comments, another user confirmed the experience, but reported seeing “green lights” between the stars:

“I know nothing but the 3 times I tripped with my best friend we got on her roof and the stars connected themselves drawing their own green soaring lights between each star. It was fascinating.”

Lines forming constellations under influence of psychedelics
Lines forming spontaneously between the stars is an effect of psychedelics that multiple people have reported. Illustration by Arthur Koopmans. Stock image used: Dreamstime

Following the Thread

So far we have two reports describing a similar experience: that of stars starting to connect themselves while on a psychedelic journey. This experience has been observed under the influence of LSD, and also psychedelic mushrooms. Let’s look at an experience given in another Reddit thread:

“At some point, I looked up at the sky and couldn’t speak or close my mouth. I was experiencing pure awe. Every star was as clear as day, and I saw these vivid thread-like lines connecting them all, just like a map of the constellations. These lines seemed delicate, and made the sky look like it was decorated with these studded geometric shapes. Has anyone ever experienced this?

 […] 

My friend sees the lines connecting the stars too. We’re both pointing to stars and seeing the same ‘constellations.’ I am no astronomer by any means, and I never really studied much on the constellations, so I have no idea whether or not we were seeing an accurate map. All I know is that it was probably the most incredible thing I’ve experienced while tripping.”

Here we have a third person experiencing the same sensation. Whether there is any consistency in the shapes of the “constellations” in different trips is unknown, but it does seem as if the creation of constellations comes even more naturally when in an altered state.

Magic mushrooms - linked to the stars?
Magic mushrooms were one of the methods that were naturally available for ancient peoples to reach altered states of awareness. Photo by John Shortland (source)

Touching the Stars

A variety of other effects have been reported, dealing with rotation and movement of the earth and/or the stars. In this comment on the above post, the user describes the stars appearing to come closer:

… “I was sitting on the ground showing my friend how to juggle (one of my strange hobbies) and we both started to look up at the sky. I’ll never forget the prominence of the stars, but what stood out to me was how it looked like the sky was falling. The harder I concentrated, the closer the stars appeared — it was the strangest feeling ever, but awesome at the same time.”

The original writer of the post confirms this, saying:

“Yes, that’s a great detail that I left out. My entire field of vision was enveloped by the night sky, and it started to appear like a huge dome, similar to a massive planetarium. It definitely all started to seem like it was close enough to touch

I remember mentioning how I wanted to reach out and pluck the threads connecting the stars, and then desperately tried (and failed) to articulate what I thought that might sound like.”

The details that are mentioned here are very interesting. The user describes the lines connecting the stars as “threads”. This reminds me of the practice of seidr magic in the Norse world, which is related to the weaving and spinning of threads. The three Norns for example weave the threads of Fate, but this is a topic for another time.

Another interesting detail mentioned above is the attempt to articulate what it might sound like to “pluck the threads”, as if the strings which make up the constellations can produce musical notes. Certainly, synesthesia is a phenomenon that can be induced with chemical agents

Again, the experience of lines connecting the stars is confirmed by users in the comments: “I had the same experience deep in the mountains of Colorado this summer. Every single star was connected. One of the greatest nights of my life.”

Long exposure cameras make the Milky Way better visible
A long exposure camera has the same effect as the dilation of the pupils at night: it makes you see more stars. Photo by Jordan Cordon (source)

All the Stars in the Sky

Some have reported seeing more stars while using LSD or mushrooms. Here’s another one from the same thread:

“I have always wondered how it works, stargazing on both of them [LSD and mushrooms] makes the night sky so busy… So many stars, patterns, so much beauty. I’ve wondered if you truly are seeing more stars and nightly activity, or if it is more a trick of vision. Either way, it is absolutely stunning.”

An amateur astronomer confirms:

“You definitely can see more stars while tripping! I’m an amateur Astronomer who lives in a rural area in Texas (not a complete dark sky site but the views are pretty good). I hang outside all the time when I’m on acid and can verify you can see a lot more stars and points of light.”

At night, especially when there is little light pollution, your pupils dilate naturally, making you able to see more stars. There is of course a limit to how far your pupils can dilate. But is it possible to see more stars in altered states of awareness? Is the brain able to generate more visual detail, which would otherwise have been filtered out? Perhaps.

So that was the popular forum Reddit so far. My search results also brought up experiences from forums dedicated to the use of psychedelics. Let’s see what more we can find…

The post on this forum describes the experience of a friend called Bob while at a music festival:

“When looking up at the night sky, Bob was able to see so much more than he had ever seen. all the stars were connected, as if all the constellations had become completely vivid. He could see geometric lines connecting hundreds of stars.. 

But Bob wasn’t sure if this was just a mental hallucination, or if the acid was just showing him more of what was literally there in the universe. Was what he saw accurate? How exactly does this work? What are other people’s experiences stargazing with acid? Bob found this incredibly fascinating and beautiful, and wants to know more..”

This experience describes the same arrangement of effects that we have seen mentioned before: seeing more stars, with lines connecting them in different colors, and the mention of geometric shapes or lines. Apparently, LSD and stargazing is a famous combination, as one commenter mentions.

Another user in the thread saw red lines connecting the stars, instead of white or green ones, and various other effects related to motion. It is known that visual shapes and visual distortions appear while under the influence of psychedelics. Perhaps these added shapes can combine with the stars to create these lines?

Psychedelic webs of light in the stars
Users of mushrooms and LSD have reported seeing interconnected threads of light between the stars. Illustration by Arthur Koopmans. Stock image: (stars and web)

Webs of Light

Another user describes the experience as follows, also bringing up the connection with shamanism:

“Personally, I wasn’t quite seeing the lines as physical things, but I was so aware of them that I may as well have. They appeared as triangles and even prisms in some places. Since I was not hallucinating the stars themselves, I have to think the lines were real, and that LSD supercharged my ability to see the connections. It’s all about seeing patterns and connections.

I also have to wonder if the people who originally saw the constellations were in a shamanic state of mind similar to what we’d regard as a psychedelic state…”

Someone on another psychedelics forum reports not being able to see constellations under normal circumstances (and without proper training), but being able to see lines when using mushrooms: “I can see the constellations plain as day with the lines connecting them.”

This description is even more visual: “… I remember on the first mushroom trip I ever had, I swear I saw incredibly fine spider-silk like, rainbow/electric filaments connecting the stars— it was incredible…”

It can certainly be argued that when we look up at the night sky, the pattern recognition apparatus in our brain automatically starts seeing shapes in the stars. While it can be difficult to find the larger constellations as they have been constructed for us, it is quite easy to see simpeler geometric shapes without too much effort.

The simpler shapes such as lines, triangles and squares (e.g. the Great Square in the constellation Pegasus)  are experienced with ease, although I personally don’t see the actual lines appearing when envisioning the constellations with the same clarity with which I can see the stars. Seeing the stars with the aid of psychedelics is something else apparently, as is also pointed out by this user:

“The odd thing is, they only connect the constellations … it’s like people didn’t invent them – they discovered them

The user clarifies this further by saying that the stars within the constellations appeared to be connected, but the constellations themselves appeared separate from each other.

Another user reported seeing the lines shift between different sets of stars, and also wondering whether these are actual constellations or something close to it. The idea of “webs of light” has been mentioned, one user even speaking of an “interconnected 3-dimensional spider web”, with all stars connecting, complemented with interesting patterns and sacred geometry.

Neurogenesis

The idea of a web forming between the stars brings to my mind the idea of neurogenesis. In this Joe Rogan episode, mycologist Paul Stamets explains how (psychedelic) mushrooms can rewire our brains, reconnecting the neurons in our brain in new ways. When our brain gets stale and becomes trapped in the same routines, neurogenesis could be seen as a process that provides new growth, new connections, and increased creativity.

Paul Stamets thinks that we all have a form of dementia to a certain degree, and he thinks that mushrooms of various sorts could help us to keep our brains younger and less rigid.

Joe Rogan#1035 – Paul Stamets. Mycologist Paul Stamets explains to Joe how mushrooms can rejuvenate the brain throught the process of neurogenesis (link)

Our Ancient Connection with the Stars

As mentioned by another user, looking at the stars is a wonderful experience under any state of mind. Looking at the stars without the aid of psychedelics can already feel like a mind-altering experience. And it is certainly possible, with some effort, to become familiar with the constellations, and to learn how to recognize them in the sky at different parts of the year without the use of psychedelics.

Knowledge of the constellations would have been a very practical thing for our ancestors. They can tell us which season we are in, or which month of the year. The stars can even help us to find our place in the greater cycle of the precession of the equinox. For sailors, they can also help to find out where the north is, and which latitude they are on.

Having knowledge of the stars can be both a practical thing (especially in earlier times, or without access to technology), but also a profoundly spiritual thing. In the constellations of the night sky, ancient cultures could see the gods and their myths played out. Can we perhaps find another clue in the fact that many ancient Mystery cults held their celebrations at night?

It certainly is possible that the ancients imagined these constellations without the help of psychedelics or any other kinds of shamanic techniques. But with so many people reporting the spontaneous generation of threads between the stars, and even the sensation of separate “constellations”, one has to wonder whether or not psychedelics played any part in the birth of the first constellations many, many aeons ago.

Once again, I’d like to point out that I’m not calling on people to try this out for themselves. The use of psychedelics is not something that should be taken too lightly. In ancient societies, the use of psychedelics was to a large extent ritualized, and performed under the guidance of experienced elders.

But if you happen to know of experiences like the ones mentioned in this investigation, especially if these contain additional insights, feel free to share them!


Forum Threads

Reddit (thread 1) and (thread 2)

Stargazing on Mushrooms – The Psychedelic Experience

Acid and Stargazing

Shamanism

Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy (1964) by Mircea Eliade

Synesthesia

The induction of synaesthesia with chemical agents: a systematic review

Joe Rogan

#1035 – Paul Stamets

#1543 – Brian Muraresku & Graham Hancock

Ancient Psychedelics

The Immortality Key: The Secret History of the Religion with No Name  (2020) by Brian C. Muraresku

Star Myths

Odin’s Sacrifice: A Myth Written in the Stars

Starmythworld.com

Buddha, Odin, Mushrooms

Mind Escape Podcast #134: Norse Myths, Runes, and the Stars

In episode #134 of the Mind Escape podcast, we talk about the links between Norse myths and the stars

I have had the great honor to be invited by the two nephews Mike and Maurice, who host the Mind Escape Podcast. I have been following this podcast myself for a while, and now I’ve had the chance to experience being invited as a guest myself, and talk about Norse Star Myths.

In the first part of what is to become a 2-part series, we explore the links between Norse mythology, and an ancient astronomical tradition. In a slideshow format, I provide an introduction of how the discipline of astromythology has been advanced with the new way of viewing the constellations of H.A. Rey, and the foundations that David Mathisen has laid for the field of research he himself calls Star Myths.

The focus of this introduction to Norse Star Myths is on the story of Odin, and his discovery of the runes. David Mathisen has decyphered the first part of this myth in his book Star Myths of the World Volume Four (Norse Mythology), and by using knowledge of the constellations, and of the Norse myths, I continued this investigation, and discovered that the runes too, that Odin carves, can be seen in the constellations.

In this podcast episode, we will see how the runes represent higher knowledge from the sacred tree, and we will even see how this connects with the biblical Garden of Eden; a story that uses the same symbols and the same constellations to deliver its sacred message to humankind.

If you want to became more familiar with the Norse myths and the constellations as well, this would be a good chance to learn more about these fascinating topics. And thank you David, for your kind words.

Part 2 will be about the Ragnarök myth, the Twilight of the Gods. We will exploring a slighty different angle, in an attempt to find traces of past catastrophe and cosmic encounters with comets in the Norse myths. And we’ll see how this too could have been remembered in the form of Star Myths.

This was a great experience, and Mike and Maurice showed a genuine interest in the history of the Vikings and Norse myths. Stay tuned for the second part!


See also:

Odin’s Sacrifice: A Myth Written in the Stars

In Search of the Runes: The Runes in the Stars

Links:

Mike and Maurice’s Mind Escape Podcast

David Mathisen’s Blog

Odin’s Scream and the Whispers of the Runes

Why does Odin scream when he takes the runes? Why are giants such a noise bunch? The stars may have the answers…

We have seen how Odin hung on the World Tree for nine whole days and nights, and how this Tree has its roots in the stars of the night sky. The stars are the home of the gods and their myths.

We now know from where Odin took the runes, and how he himself is the one who carved and painted them. These runes however, are immaterial in their origin, as the myth suggests. Odin did not invent the runes. The runes can be seen as divine laws that are woven into the fabric of the universe – determining the fate of gods and mortals.

Odin saw the shapes of the runes, and then he carved and painted them, presumably with his own blood. The presence of a bright red star near the celestial twigs that carry the runes suggests that the practice of reddening the runes may be of celestial significance.

Odin Hanging on the World Tree by Emile Doepler & Arthur Koopmans
Artwork: Odin sacrificing himself upon Yggdrasil (1895) by Lorenz Frølich. Coloring by Arthur Koopmans.

We started out with looking at David Mathisen’s celestial interpretation of the hanging Odin. As we keep delving deeper, it becomes clear how deep the roots of this myth go. Let’s return to the poem and see where it leads us:

None refreshed me ever with food or drink,

I peered right down in the deep;

crying aloud I lifted the Runes,

then back I fell from there.

Hávamál 138[1]

So few lines, so full of meaning… The first line of this stanza says that no one refreshed Odin with food or drink while he hung on the tree. Many scholars have noted the shamanic undertones in Odin’s prolonged state of deprivation. Fasting is one of the techniques that shamans across the world have practiced as a preparation for shamanic ceremonies and ritual initiations. 

Fasting is a technique that can be used to improve experiences of altered states. It would have helped to bring the shaman to the Otherworld, the realm of spirits, and it may have helped Odin to find the shapes of the runes.

In a similar manner, Francis Crick supposedly first saw the double helix shape of the DNA molecule while he was under the influence of LSD, although this is disputed.

We will return to Odin’s fasting later. Now, let’s pick up where we left off with Odin’s taking of the runes.

We have seen through several examples how the runes were perceived by ancient people as more than just the letters of an alphabet. The myths and sagas tell us that the runes were symbols with magical qualities, attached to songs of power.

To the ancients, there was magic in the act of writing, and there was magic in the power of song and incantation. In the poem, Odin took the runes with a scream. This is yet another clue that we should be looking for a certain constellation in the night sky.

Screaming he took the Runes

After nine days and nights of hanging from a tree, Odin let out a scream as he took up the runes in his hand. As we now know, Odin can be linked to the constellation Ophiuchus. Ophiuchus is one of the larger constellations that can be seen in the sky.

David Mathisen has demonstrated in his Star Myths of the World Volume Four (Norse Mythology) that the towering constellation Ophiuchus can be linked to many of the giants in Norse myth. When we look at the constellation Ophiuchus below, we can see that he is a head taller than the figure of Sagittarius, towards which he seems to be leaning:

Odin's Hanging Star Myth (David Mathisen)
The towering Ophiuchus is one of the so-called “giant constellations”

One of the giants that David Mathisen has shown to be linked to Ophiuchus is the primordial giant Ymir, whose name may be translated as “Screamer.” Many other giants have names with “yeller” or “screamer” in them.

There is a certain constellation that seems to be linked to the screams of giants, and to the scream or voice of several other mythological characters. One of the rules that can be derived from the Star Myths, is that a figure associated with a certain constellation can derive its attributes from surrounding constellations. 

Star myth Rule: 

  • Mythological figures linked to a certain constellation can derive their attributes from neighbouring constellations.

The roaring voice of Ophiuchus figures can be found in a constellation that is placed near the head of Ophiuchus. In the image below you can see what looks like a four-armed whirlwind. This is the modern way of viewing the constellation Hercules.

It is not often that the modern way of looking at the constellations is that useful, but this is one of those cases. In the image below, you can see Hercules in both its modern form as a whirlwind, and you can see H. A. Rey’s version.

The latter looks more like the actual Hercules that we know from the myths as a sturdy figure carrying a club:

The constellation Hercules (H.A. Rey)
Two versions of the constellation Hercules

A Voice like a Whirlwind

In his books, David Mathisen has shown that Hercules in his “whirlwind form” is linked to roaring and sucking vortices in myth. Heroes like Odysseus must navigate around these treacherous maelstroms, and sometimes the hero gets sucked in, to be transported to a magical realm.

In Volume One of his Star Myths series, we can find the example of the imposing forest guardian of Mesopotamian myth, called Humbaba or Huwawa. This Humbaba is also an Ophiuchus figure. In the epic of Gilgamesh it is said that the giant Humbaba’s voice is like a whirlwind

This example shows us that the constellation Hercules in its whirlwind form can be linked to a roaring voice. In Norse myths, this roar is attributed mostly to the noisy giants. In the myth of Odin’s hanging though, Hercules in its “whirlwind form” can be seen as the scream that emanates from Odin’s mouth.

Tridents and Thunderbolts

We have seen that Scorpio can be identified with the nine runic twigs, but when Odin lifts up the runes, they may be linked to a different celestial snake.

Ophiuchus can be seen in the image below to carry the snake asterism called Serpens. The right side of the snake is called Serpens Caput, the “Snake’s Head”. The actual head of the snake is the small triangular ring at the end of the snake’s body, which you can see in the image below:

Odin screams as he takes the runes - Star Myth
Odin Screams as he lifts up the runes – envisioned in the constellations

David Mathisen has shown throughout his books that this snake’s head can be seen as a small object that is held by the constellation Ophiuchus. He has also shown that this object held in Ophiuchus’ hand can be linked to the writing tablets that the Egyptian god Thoth hands over to Ra.

The scribe god Thoth himself can be identified with the constellation Hercules in the image above. The god Ra, who receives the tablets from Thoth, is linked to Ophiuchus. A detailed analysis of the Egyptian myth about the origin of writing can be found in his Star Myths of the World Volume One

We know that in the Norse myth, Odin can be identified with Ophiuchus. As Odin lifts up the runes from below, could Serpens Caput represent the runes that he holds in his hand?

The Snake’s Head asterism could be envisioned as a small tablet in Egyptian myth. However, it doesn’t seem to visually resemble the rune twigs that Odin takes, at least not in this form.

If you look closely at Serpens Caput, you can see that there is an extra star on the top of the snake’s head. By altering the lines that connect these stars, David Mathisen has shown how this asterism can be envisioned as a trident shape. Mathisen has linked Ophiuchus to several mythological figures that have a trident as weapon, such as the Indian Shiva or the Greek god Poseidon.

The vajra, the ritual thunderbolt weapon of the Vedic tradition, can also assume the form of a trident. And in an Icelandic manuscript from the 18th Century, we see Odin depicted with such a thunderbolt weapon in his hand, and on his horse Sleipnir:

Odin riding Sleipnir with a trident in his hand, from an 18th Century Icelandic Manuscript – source

Elk’s Antlers and Burning Plants

When we see Serpens Caput in the above manner, I would argue that we can also see this asterism as a forked twig, or as a bundle of twigs.

There is even a rune that has this exact same shape, and that is the Algiz ᛉ rune. This rune is commonly known as Algiz or Elhaz, possibly from the Proto-Germanic word for “elk”. This name is rather appropriate, since the shape of this rune resembles the antlers of an elk, but the original name of this rune is unknown.

In the Anglo-Saxon rune poem, this rune is linked to eolh-secg, or “elk-sedge”, a plant that burns the blood of those who touch it.

In the image below you can see how Serpens Caput can resemble a twig or a bundle of twigs held by Odin, and how this resembles the shape of the Algiz rune:

Ophiuchus holding Serpens Caput (H.A. Rey)
Serpens Caput as the rune twigs that Odin holds in his hand

There are other constellations that, to my mind, can be linked with this trident shape. We will deal with those at a later time. As you can see in the Icelandic illustration above, the trident motif is repeated all over.

The idea of a plant that “burns the blood” of those who touch it also reminds of the relation between the runes and blood that we have examined in the previous part of this investigation.

Secrets and Whispers

With all this mystery surrounding the runes, let’s take a look at what the word rune actually means. 

The English word rune can be derived from the Proto-Germanic word runo, which can be translated not only as “letter”, but also as “secret” or “whisper”. This in itself gives us a clue that we are not merely dealing with the letters of an alphabet. Clearly, the runes were perceived as being more than that.

The predecessor of the word runo has been reconstructed in the Proto-Indo-European language as rewhn (“to roar, grumble, murmur, mumble, whisper”). It is interesting to see how rewhn can mean “to roar”, since we have seen how Odin took the runes with a scream. We have also seen how this is related to the constellation Hercules as a roaring wind or vortex.

Clearly, the runes contained a special kind of knowledge, which was best kept secret. Odin had to go through great efforts to acquire them. As we have seen in Part Two of this series, the secret of the runes lies with the “higher Powers”, who first conceived them.

This fits with the myth from the Rig Veda, which describes the vedas as the vision of a higher entity called Brahma.

How might the idea of the runes as “secrets” or “whispers” be linked to the constellations? Can we see a secret being whispered into someone’s ear?

In the previous image, we have seen the constellation Hercules above Ophiuchus in his two main forms. The left side of the image shows Hercules handing something over to Ophiuchus below, where Serpens Caput represents the object that is given.

I would propose that Serpens caput might also be envisioned as an ear into which a secret is whispered from above. The whisper, like the scream, could be linked to Hercules in its whirlwind form, which is shown in the right side of the image.

The Ear of Heimdal

There is evidence that provides further support for this interpretation in David Mathisen’s Star Myths of the World Volume Four. In this book, he shows how Ophiuchus can also be linked to the Norse god Heimdal, the Watchman of the gods, a god with a supernatural ability of hearing.

Heimdal at Bifröst with horn by Emile Doepler (1905)
“Heimdallr at the Bridge of Heaven” by Emile Doepler (1905) Source

The constellations in the night sky have been likened by Mathisen with actors who can play multiple roles in the same story. Let’s make this rule of thumb that he mentions into an official Star Myth rule:

Star myth Rule: 

  • The same constellations can play many different mythical figures, and they can even play more than one character in the same myth.

The icelandic poet Snorri Sturlusson mentions in his Prose Edda – an important source of Norse myths – that the watchman of the gods is a son of Odin. In the myths it is told how Odin sacrificed an eye to gain knowledge of the unknown.

Heimdal is said to have sacrificed an ear, so that he could hear all the things that happen outside the home of the gods. Both the eye of Odin and Heimdal’s ear have been linked by David Mathisen to Serpens Caput, which can be seen as a disembodied organ held in Ophiuchus’ hand.

As the ear of Heimdal, the “serpent-head” can be envisioned as an ear attached to the head of Ophiuchus by the right half of the Serpens asterism.

Ophiuchus with Serpens Caput (H.A. Rey)
Serpens Caput symbolizing a disembodied organ held by Ophiuchus

We can now see how these constellations may be linked to the sharing of the runes as “secrets”. These secrets may be seen as whispered into the ear of an Ophiuchus figure, by a Hercules figure above.

We have seen how Hercules as a vortex can be the visualization of a voice, or a roaring sound, so it could represent a whisper as well. Both the “whisper” and the “roar” can be found in the meaning of the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European word rewhn, from which the word rune is derived.

Odin’s Rune Song doesn’t speak about secrets being whispered into Odin’s ear; rather, he finds the runes somewhere in the depths below. But we have seen from the etymology of the word rune that the runes are linked to the trading of secrets, and these secrets were given in the form of a whisper.

In the myths of ancient Egypt and India, the gifts of writing and divine wisdom were handed over from above. In the Norse myths, the nine runes were taken by Odin from the deep, from what could be called the Underworld.

But since there are more than nine runes, perhaps not all of these runes came from the depths below. What these myths seem to suggest is that there is wisdom not only in the realm of heaven above – which we associate with the world of light – but there is wisdom too in the netherworld, at the roots of the World Tree.


CONCLUSION:

The constellation Hercules in its “whirlwind form” can be linked in myth to Odin’s scream when he takes up the runes, and to the screaming giants. The etymology of the word rune shows that the word can be translated as “roar” or “scream”, but also as “secret” or “whisper”. Hercules as a human figure can be seen as whispering a secret into the ear of Ophiuchus, with Serpens Caput as Ophiuchus’ ear. This asterism can also represent the runes that Odin takes, and the Algiz rune.

The runes can be seen as visions from the deep, or as whispers from above. They can represent divine laws that manifest in the building blocks of speech, in magical songs, in words of power, and in letters for writing.


This myth presents a riddle that is hard to solve when we look only at the lines of the poem itself. If we don’t shy away from investigating a larger world-wide mythological tradition linked to the stars, then we can begin to understand the secret knowledge hidden in this poem. By looking at the stars above, we can salvage its age-old wisdom.

So far, we have only focused on one small part of the night sky. As we go deeper into the investigation of this myth in the next part of this series, we will broaden our horizon, so that we can see the full extent of the sky that this myth describes, and what the implications of this might be…

Coming soon:

Part V   Odin’s Fall and the Secret Fire

Series:

Odin’s Sacrifice – A Myth Written in the Stars


Notes

[1] my adaptation of the Bellows translation

Source Texts

Hávamál, translated by Olive Bray

The Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem

David Mathisen’s Blog

Star Myths of the World

Books

Star Myths of the World, and How to Interpret Them: Volume One, Second Edition (David Mathisen 2019)

Star Myths of the World, and How to Interpret Them: Volume Four: Norse Mythology (David Mathisen 2018)

The Stars: A New Way to See Them (H.A. Rey 1976)

Featured image: “Odin Screaming as he Takes the Runes” by Arthur Koopmans

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