There’s something magical about the night sky, something that draws us all in. Looking with wonder at the stars is a universal human trait that must have been with us from the very first moments of species consciousness. The night hold such beauty, not just the richness of those pale diamonds cast over a velvety sky beyond our comprehension, but the possibility of what might lie beyond them. Thankfully for the less dewy eyed there is still a perfectly sensible reason for looking up besides pure indulgence, turns out those little lights are as useful as they are beautiful.
One of the most fascinating stars visible in the night sky is Polaris, the North Star or Polestar. Whatever name you want to give it, and believe me there have been a lot of names over the years: the Lodestar, star of the sea, the golden peg, Tou Min, to name but a few. Whatever you want to call it, it is both captivating, as one of the brightest stars in the sky, and an amazing navigation tool.
People have always been fascinated by Polaris. The Norse tradition tells of it being a jewel encrusted spike that kept the giant orb of the world suspected above, and Arab myths tell of a ominous hole in the sky. If we choose to, we can be scientific and accept it for the fiery wonder it is and yet, unlike some things, knowledge of its true origin in no way detracts from its use or fascination.
Polaris shines directly in the north. If you are facing Polaris you’re facing North. Of course in the days before compasses or GPS this was an essential means of navigation for any traveller. One can imagine the kind of relationship mariners would have built up with the Star of the Sea, her beautiful light keeping them on track, a reminder of, or leading them to, home. These constants are the kinds of things that us Pagans love to deal in. The sense of connection we feel with those who have gone before us, when our ancestors looked up at the North Star they looked to the same point and at the same white brightness that we do now.
Another thing about being a Pagan is that you might well find yourself lost in the woods on a dark night. Of course we’re a well organised bunch but even a consummate professional can find themselves with a torch that has run out of battery, or a compass which refuses to point north. If this happens fail not!
Polaris is right next to the constellation of Ursa Major, you know, the Saucepan, or Big Dipper if you’re slightly more eloquent. Find the handle and then find the part of the saucepan opposite that, the bit where you’d pour the tomato soup from…follow that straight up and there Polaris is, ready to guide.
Polaris is fantastic help in setting up a circle, assuming you are putting your altar in the north and working round from there. If you align your northern point with Polaris you’ll not only be perfectly aligned with the compass points, but with all the other groups or solitaries practicing in ages gone by and those working at the same time as you.
Have a look see if you can find her out tonight!