This is a nicely designed paperback of medium size, with clean readable type and lots of monochrome illustrations. Its goal is to cover the basics of astronomy and mythology of the night sky for the spiritually-minded. On seeing the contents and plan of this book, my very first thought was “this reminds me, I really need to get around to reading Hamlet’s Mill.” Obviously, the present work doesn’t go into that sort of depth in 272 pages. It is much more of a tour of “what everyone should know about astronomy and its mythos from a mystical perspective.”
The book is aimed at any and all intellectually curious spiritual-minded folk. It manages to be generally on-target with the science without drowning the non-technical reader.
Starting in a fairly logical spot, the North Pole, the narrative descends to the Zodiac and then follows each of the traditional planets. Tips for locating particular constellations and stars, familiar to devoted amateur astronomers but new to most people, are sprinkled throughout the text. Each section ends with some exercises for getting more familiar with the sky and the lore.
There are about 25 pages of tables of planetary elongations, conjunctions, and other interesting data at the end. Next Jupiter-Saturn conjunction? 12/20/2020.
Those of us who actually check the end notes will be grateful that one of the simpler systems was used: the notes are numbered sequentially throughout the book, rather than starting over by chapter. This is my second-favorite system; the best is to have headers on the pages of notes like, “Notes for pp. 100-107.”
The author of this book was faced with a complete embarrassment of riches: how do you curtail this vast and fascinating subject? All throughout, I thought of bits of this and that lore that could have been added, but on the whole, Shesso did a marvelous job of selection. There is a deeper level of initiatory lore available, and many more stories to tell, but that’s why we keep looking.
There is a strain of criticism of “modern” astrology in the book, which does not get contentious or technical; it is more of an exhortation to get out and experience the wonders of the sky first hand, as our forebears who gave us the impulse behind astrology did. I’m sympathetic to that, but I’m not giving up my nice neat Ptolemaic Zodiac just yet.
On p. 160, there is a story based on an equation of Thor to Jupiter and Freyja to Venus, but that correspondence is straight out of the Interpretatio Romana, not any Germanic source.
There are a very few points on which the science is a little weak. For one, the discussion of Solstices and the analemma leaves the distinct impression that the Sun literally stands still at each Solstice, whereas the apparent daily motion is never zero when measured to a precision of seconds of arc. There’s nothing in there that made me scream, tear my hair, or throw the book, though, and that is unusual in the ranks of “science of mysticism” titles (I actually used one for target practice).
Since I enjoyed this book even though none of the astronomical content was new to me, I can unreservedly recommend it to essentially all of my readers.
A Magical Tour of the Night Sky
Use the Planets and Stars for Personal and Sacred Discovery
7 x 9
December 1, 2011
[Complimentary review copy from Red Wheel/Weiser gratefully acknowledged, opinions my own, your mileage may vary, etc.]