Jessica Shelley

storyteller, poet, bookworm

Researching the Night Sky

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about our relationship to the stars. Rifling through nature books, mythology and astronomical texts to collect word candy and inspiration for my novel. (And a possible second portfolio idea/poetry collection.)

How magnificent it is that even though we all live under the same sky, depending on where your feet touch the soil, the stars can have different translations and interpretations.

When I was around eight to twelve years old, my dad lived in the Shropshire countryside. The kind of place that had not been tainted by any light pollution – only gifted nature’s bounty. When the nights began to draw inward and grew darker around the afternoon, sometimes we would come back from town or from grocery shopping, hopping out of the car only to be greeted, suddenly, by a beautiful spectacle above our heads.

The milky way would spread out like a paint-splattered canvas intertwined with smoke that looked like spirits caught in the sky or foggy octopus tendrils. My dad would point, explain its origin and explain the history of where the magic came from. He showed me the shapes in the sky and how if you found one you could begin to trace, connect dot to dot, with the others. Ryan’s belt, the bucket, and so on.

In Norway, we travelled and saw the marvel of the Northern Lights. (I was probably too cold and young to appreciate it then but am forever grateful for that moment now.) They danced in turquoise and purple, flashing in and out like energetic waves, colours changing – a constant gift that kept on giving.

It’s interesting how we tend to refer to the sky by the Greek or Latin translations.

When my dad and I gazed at the nightscape, he explained that in mythology the Milky Way was the milk of goddess Hera, spraying across the sky after suckling Hercules. And I thought, in wonder, dreaming of these fantastical and strange concepts, that that was all there was to it.

But under each sky, there are a thousand different stories. A thousand different translations.

In Welsh mythology, the milky way is a celestial river called the road of Gwydion, in which the hero Gwydion must fetch and restore the soul of Llew.

To the Hindus of India, the Milky Way forms the belly of a dolphin that assists the planets in their path across the sky.

And the Khoisan people of Africa have an oral tradition that states long ago there were no stars and the night was pitch black but a girl, lonely and desperately in search for other people, threw the embers from a fire into the sky to light her road and, therefore, created the Milky Way we see today.

Perhaps, it’s not a matter of what is truth and what is a lie or what myth is realistic and which one is purely narrative. Perhaps all the stories could be true, just as our own personal narratives are to us, just different, sometimes, in translation.

I can’t wait to unearth more stories further, dig into this astronomical wormhole of research, and plan on cross-referencing a lot of different tales across a multitude of cultures. I plan on creating a star-language story bible of sorts, hoping to find some middle grounding to intertwine into my fantastical world. I love this part of the process! The going-back-and-forth of research and writing and research and writing. (Which currently I’m at 30k and counting! Halfway and marching steadily forward!)

I hope, if you're working on any exciting projects dreamers, that the seedlings of inspiration you are gathering, spark you to life just like the embers of the girl’s fire – blooming and bursting forth a possible Milky Way to guide you further towards hope, light, or your dreams!

Here’s to the stars, to stories, to communities, and to the imagination!

J.M.S. x

Designed with love and intention by Jessica Shelley