You can easily spot a northern stargazer. They’re the ones who are staring upward in the dark, eyes widened, mouth agape, soaking the dark, dusty lanes of the galaxy into their minds, simply amazed that the core of the Milky Way could ever get that high into the sky. I mean, we’ve heard about such things, but wow! This is a view we never get to enjoy from our northern climes. In the population centers, Sagittarius skirts the haze-ridden, light polluted horizon allowing us to see a teapot shape, but little else. The southern perspective of our galactic center is absolutely breath taking and feeds the imagination. So it was that picture, the Milky Way high at the zenith with arms stretching toward opposite horizons, that I wanted to capture the most during my trip to Chile. Take notice of the myriad stars and the bright clouds of gas, but what really stands out are the dark lanes that accentuate this mythological celestial river.
Some African tribes call the Milky Way the backbone of night. Notice that a lot of the dark lanes run horizontally across its path, and visualize them as the separation of the vertebrae of the galaxy. It is the support structure of the cosmos. In their culture they believed that if the backbone collapsed, then the entire universe would fall. Let’s not let our universe collapse because we fail to look up or pass along our stories and insights to others.
Psychologists use a Rorschach test to learn about our personality traits and conflicts held deep in the subconscious. I want you to take you a Celestial Rorschach test. Perhaps not to understand any deep rooted conflicts, but rather to gain an inner perspective of what you see outside.
To begin, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths to relax, and clear your mind. When you open your eyes, take a look at only the dark area on the MILKY WAY TEST image. What is the first thing that comes to mind when you see that shape? If you have already been taught that it looks like a certain pattern, let that go for the moment. Go beyond your preconceptions. Look at it again with new eyes. If you had to make your own original picture, what would it be?
People in many cultures have taken this celestial Rorschach test, and passed their results down through generations to build their night sky legacy. How we see things, our perspective, helps to define us and our reality. In the southern hemisphere this dark figure, this guardian of the Milky Way takes the shape of a kiwi bird. In the northern hemisphere, the reverse perspective makes it look like a prancing horse. See if you can locate each figure in the next image- the kiwi looking to the left and the horse to the right.
I suppose the point of any Rorschach test is to get you to see deeper inside, to understand and appreciate something new about yourself. Astronomy can help with that. Learn and cherish the patterns of your culture, pass that knowledge onto the youth to keep that spirit alive. But also see and cherish your special pattern in the sky. View its extraordinary significance like an animal totem or talisman that can personalize the cosmos just for you.