Approximately 12 million years ago a nondescript white dwarf star in the distant galaxy known simply as M82 exploded, its light finally visible on Earth on or right around 22 January 2014. According to SpaceWeather.com, this event has been classified as a type 1-a supernova , the likes of which directed scientists to speculate on the existence of Dark Energy, something they have yet to define other than through various theories still under debate. Astrologically such events tend to have metaphorical meaning which can best be proposed based on the mythology of the constellation in which it resides, in this case Ursa Major, the Great Bear, which has always held considerable importance to cultures throughout the world.
What it is and Where to See It
The galaxy M82 was discovered in December 1774 by J.E. Bode. It's located roughly between the star known as Dubhe in Ursa Major a.k.a. the Big Dipper and Polaris, a.k.a. the North Star in the handle of Ursa Minor or the Little Dipper. You don't have to be an astronomy buff to find it since these two constellations are relatively easy to find in the sky. This time of year they're low in the sky in the Northern Hemisphere and only visible as far as 28 degrees South Latitude in the Southern, so many of our friends below that point will unfortunately miss out. This explosion was massive enough it can be seen with the naked eye so if weather permits, both as far as cloud cover and the nasty, record-breaking cold are concerned, you might want to brave a trip outside to check it out by looking North and as many degrees up as your location's latitude. The better part of these constellations are circumpolar, meaning they circle the pole and thus never set, except for some of the stars in the handle of the Big Dipper or more accurately the Big Bear's tail. Yes, bears do not typically have tails and the fact this one does has resulted in various fanciful explanations.
M82 looks like a bit of a mess, as if someone dropped their cookie in a cup of milk with the event captured using strobe photograph. While its companion cleverly named M81 is a nice, symmetrical spiral galaxy, in 1982 Raymo described M82 as "an amorphous ellipsoid" with a "central area marked by wisps and filaments as if some colossal explosion had occurred in the nucleus. Material streams outward from the nucleus at hundred of miles per second." He goes on to note that the galaxy is a substantial source of radio energy with a strong magnetic field and "whatever is going on in M82, it is certainly one of the most violent events to have occurred in nearby regions of the universe." Regarding the event that rendered its haphazard shape it was theorized back in the 1960s that the explosion involved a mass equal to several million of our suns which was a scale previously unknown yet subsequently observed in other galaxies. Scientists suggested that the galaxy's center still contained massive amounts of dust and gas where "vast contracting 'pseudo stars' or 'hyper-stars' might form which would contain millions of solar masses. Depending upon the exact conditions, such a contracting body might collapse directly into the 'black hole' state or destroy itself in a huge outburst when pressures and temperatures reached a critical stage." Clearly M82 is at it again.
Mythological Background of Ursa Major
Philosophers have said throughout the ages that the soul is defined by its form and will act according to the meaning we give to it, which sounds a lot like the "Law of Creation" that's so popular these days. In astrology the interpretation of a planet, asteroid or star is associated with its meaning which lends clues to how its influence will manifest. Bear with me now (pun intended) as I give you some background information which may be rather dry but provides context for when I get to the astrological part.
It's interesting that cultures around the world including the Greeks and Romans as well as the Iroquois and Algonquin tribes in ancient North America have seen this grouping of stars as bears and the Arabian name for Ursa Major was Al Dubb al Akbar, the "Greater Bear." According to Greek mythology, the bear was originally Callisto of Arcadia, daughter of King Lycaon, who was transformed to protect her from the jealous wrath of Juno given that Callisto had been another of Zeus' romantic conquests. Nearly slain by her son, Arcas, who didn't recognize his mother in her altered form, Zeus then placed the two of them in the sky as the Big and Little Bear. According to Ovid in his Metamorphoses, [Zeus] flung them through the air, In whirlwinds to the high heavens, and fix'd them there, where the new constellations nightly rise, Lustrous in the northern skies. Some speculate that it was Zeus' action hurling them to the heavens that indeed stretched their tails to such unusual length. Juno was outwitted but not entirely defeated in that she declared that they never go to their rest beneath the horizon like the other constellations but would forever circle the Pole. Never setting, i.e. circumpolar rotation, however, made the star Polaris at the tip of the tail of Ursa Minor ideal for navigation and used for that purpose extensively, clear into modern times including use by a star tracker on the Space Shuttle until the advent of GPS.
But local cultures will do as they will, adapting this prominent star grouping to suit their own stories. Thus, the Welsh saw Ursa Major as a symbol of King Arthur, his name derived from Arth-Uthyr, "the wonderful Bear." This led eventually to the Britons seeing the constellation as Arthur's chariot. Considering the constellation is circumpolar and thus one that traces out star trail circles in the sky on time exposure photos it's easy to see how this could also relate to King Arthur's "Knights of the Roundtable." In Ireland it was King David's chariot. In Denmark and Sweden it was the Stori Vagn or "Great Wagon, and the Teutonic tribes referred to it as Karls Vagn or the Chariot of Thor. The Vikings saw it as the Chariot of Wotan or Odin. Other Europeans likewise saw it as a wagon or chariot while medieval Christians saw it as the heavenly chariot in which Elijah was taken to heaven. (And trust me, I'm not just rambling, I'm going somewhere with all this as far as its astrological meaning is concerned.)
In English tradition it was also seen as the Plough, possibly derived from the Triones or Teriones, the Plough oxen or threshing oxen of Roman fable mentioned by Cicero as the Septentriones, which later became a term for the north wind and polar things in general; remember we're talking about the constellations that revolve around the North Star or Polaris which is directly over the North Pole. The root of this term, sept, means seven and there are seven stars in the most prominent portion of Ursa Major, the part commonly called the Big Dipper. Al Biruni in the 11th Century thought the word was a form of tarana which refers to the "passage" or circling of the Seven Stars. Consider for a moment how much the number seven appears in both myth and scripture. (See illustration below of the 7 Tablets of Creation.) Coincidence? In other traditions these stars are seen as a bier followed by mourners, such as the Arabic Banat Na'ash al Kubra or the "Daughters of the Great Bier" while Christians saw it as the bier of Lazarus. Of course there is a phonetic similarity between bear and bier which may seem somewhat coincidental but actually both trace back to Ursa Major. In Egyptian times the star group became the boat or chariot of Osiris. On an ancient cuneiform star list they are known as the mul apin, literally "stars of the plow."
So What Does it All Mean Astrologically?
As noted earlier, this constellation is circumpolar which means it rotates about a central point above the North Pole. Over a twenty-four hour period it will make a complete revolution and will never set as other constellations do and thus form those circular star trails noted earlier. However, each season at sunset will find it oriented in a different way. These different orientations help explain the variety of objects used to describe it. This was pointed out beautifully by UK astrologer, Deborah Houlding, in a lecture entitled "Ploughs, Bears and Burials: The Guidance of the Pole Stars" which she presented at the online astrological conference Breaking Down the Borders sponsored by the International Academy of Astrology in November 2010. If you're really into this stuff you can still obtain a recording of it through IAA (link below).
In the spring the handle points east, direction that denotes beginnings, and is seen as a plow. In summer, it's in a vertical position that resembles a chariot or as the Egyptians saw it, an adze, an agricultural tool used to sow and reap. In autumn its handle points west, direction symbolic of endings, and the stars assume the bier position. However, since the stars make a complete rotation every twenty-four hours, it could be in any position at some point during the day or night.
Currently as I write it's winter, and a nasty one at that, when at sunset
the Big Dipper would be seen as upright in
what to me resembles an ax, representative of chopping wood, if
nothing else, even though I have not seen this mentioned anywhere.
It could also be seen as a battle ax, particularly since the meaning
of the individual stars tend to be martial in nature. It's
easy to see how the circumpolar nature can be associated with a
wheel and thus cycles of life with spring (the plow) analogous to
new life and autumn analogous to death (bier). There are also
implications that the plow is more assertive and action oriented
while the bier is more passive. All that aside, you can see
how this very prominent constellation has held important
implications around the world and thus is not just any old part of
the sky which gives more importance to the fact this is where M82
and the supernova occurred.
In addition to the importance of Ursa Major as a whole, each star has an individual meaning. Don't worry, I won't go into each of them since if you've made it this far without your eyes glazing over you're doing quite well. However, as noted above, M82 is located closest to Ursa Major's alpha star, Dubhe, which is worth thinking about. It's located on the bear's back near the shoulder which implies the ability to bear burdens. It's orange in color which suggests courage and an attitude which faces trouble head-on. When you consider that bears are powerful and ferocious creatures not to be trifled with, it follows that it could be potentially destructive to the point of annihilation. Ptolemy considered Dubhe to be martial in nature. Reinhold Ebertin referred to it as "nasty" and much like a destructive Mars. Indeed, when this star is associated with a natal planet it tends to have a rather nasty effect with Adolph Hitler one example where this star was conjunct Saturn with the stars in the plow position which relates to assertion. As yet astrologers have not assigned meaning to individual galaxies as far as I know. However, given the importance of this part of the sky and Dubhe's implications, my conclusion would be that it's not friendly.
Nothing draws attention like a bright light in the sky. No one has ever conclusively proved what constituted the Star of Bethlehem but a supernova is one that has been noted as a possibility. You may be disappointed that after dragging you through all this I'm not going to tell you what the supernova in M82 means, only that it means something. The fact that Venus is currently retrograde seems relevant since in that state she's the Goddess of War as opposed to Love which ties in as well. She's in Capricorn, sign that rules governments and corporations with her sign ruler, Saturn, in Scorpio, the sign of transformations including death and rebirth. Another thing I learned while researching this blog is a little tidbit about another star in this constellation which is called Alkaid. This one is in the tip of the handle and represents the lead mourner when in the bier position. Alkaid derives from the Arabic al qaid which means "leader of mourners." If you can't see where that is going then you've probably been living in a cave or off-world for the past 15 years or so.
You can call this supernova and its location a coincidence if you like. Personally, I don't believe there is any such thing, especially where astrology is concerned. There is always meaning, even if you have to dig to find it. A few of my favorite "what are the odds?" astrological moments include the asteroid Marathon on the midheaven for the Boston Marathon bombing and the asteroid fly-by that occurred on the day of one of the largest tornadoes on record which you can read by following those links. My challenge to you is to ponder all these "coincidences" and see what manifests in the coming days and months or perhaps until the supernova fades. If nothing else consider what an incredible blast it comprised, one of the most violent events in the entire cosmos. There's a message there. I'm sure of it. Take a few quiet moments to see what it says to you.
References: www.SpaceWeather.com accessed 27 January 2014; "365 Starry Nights: An Introduction to Astronomy for Every Night of the Year" by Chet Raymo; Burnham's Celestial Handbook: An Observer's Guide to the Universe Beyond the Solar System, Volume 3," by Robert Burnham, Jr.; "Brady's Book of Fixed Stars" by Bernadette Brady; "Ploughs, Bears and Burials" lecture by Deborah Houlding. Illustrations from http://www.gutenberg.org/files/10940/10940-h/images/fig018.png & http://www.gutenberg.org/files/16653/16653-h/16653-h.htm#id2525068 &
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