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If anything symbolizes power and strength, it has to be Hercules, the constellation that sits in between the two brightest stars of summer: Vega and Arcturus. In late April and early May, look for Hercules low in the eastern sky at early evening, to the upper right of the brilliant star Vega.
I refer you to the sky chart, courtesy of John Walker's Your Sky Planetarium. Draw a line from Vega to Arcturus to find Hercules about one-third the way between these beacon stars. I often associate Hercules' return to the early evening sky with May Day - the cross-quarter day marking the approximate midway point between the March spring equinox and the June summer solstice.
Beauty Will Save the World
Yes, Hercules' appearance over the eastern horizon assures me of the return of the Sun's warming grace and the rebirth of springtime flowers! Joy blooms into my heart as each sublunary sun radiantly beams with its favorite color of the rainbow. I'm reminded of Dostoevsky's claim that "beauty will save the world" and Sherlock Holmes' hopeful assertion that "our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers."
The re-emergence of Hercules coincides with the great awakening. Certainly, Hercules suffered through his winter of discontent, though his heroic twelve labors helped him to overcome his dark side. Like Hercules, humanity has its dark side that has robbed the world of much of its beauty and joy. The return of Hercules rekindles the hope that our species' inner light may yet cast out the dark age of our misdeeds.
Hercules All-Heal or Hercules' Wound-wort
Flowers aptly symbolize the healing power of beauty and goodness. In Culpeper's Complete Herbal, the manual says the plant Prunella vulgaris "is also called Hercules All-Heal or Hercules Wound-wort, because it is supposed that Hercules learned the herb and its virtues from Chiron." Nicholas Culpeper goes on to elaborate, "It is under the dominion of Mars, hot, biting and choleric; and remedies what evils Mars afflicts the body of a man with, by sympathy, as vipers' flesh attracts poison, and the loadstone iron." Copyright photo courtesy of Lachlan Cranswich
Hercules Ascent Coincides With Waxing Power of Sun
By late April or early May, we see Hercules near the eastern horizon at early evening. At the same hour each day thereafter, Hercules ascends about one degree higher into the early evening sky. Some three months later - in late July and early August - Hercules soars to highest point, or straight overhead as dusk turns to nightfall. This is the time of year that Sirius - the Dog Star - rises with the Sun, ushering in the sweltering "Dog Days" of summer. Hercules and the Sun are now at the apex of their powers.
Hercules Descent Coincides With Waning Power of Sun
As summer ebbs toward autumn, Hercules begins his slow but steady descent westward, his fall coinciding with the diminishing power of the Sun. When Halloween - that cross-quarter day between the September autumn equinox and the December winter solstice - comes rolling around, Hercules appears due west in the evening autumn chill, sitting pretty much midway between the horizon and straight overhead.
When the winter solstice arrives, Hercules sits over the northwest horizon after dark, a sure sign that his departure and the coldest days of winter are soon to follow. By late January or early February, Hercules disappears for good, not to return to early evening sky till a month or so after the March spring equinox.
copyright 2010 by Bruce McClure
April 2010 Feature * June 2010 Feature