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Introduction to the Milky Way

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Across civilizations, the Milky Way plays a fundamental role in ancient myths. Together, we will discover the keys to decode the stories told in the stars.


For our ancestors, the Milky Way represented the separation between two worlds

  • The world in which we live is the natural world and it is described as terrestrial.

  • The supernatural world is described as an oceanic domain.

-Each constellation belongs to one of them and surprisingly has characteristics that clearly indicate to which world it belongs.

The following video summarizes in 4 minutes this primordial phenomenon.

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Episode 2

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For our ancestors this heavenly plan mapping the stars:


- gives rise to a visual language;

- serves as an aide-memoir for epics and stories;

- encourages meditation on the associated teachings.


Visualizing the plan of the sky is a challenge for 3 reasons:

- the sky is spherical, not a 2D chart;

- we live on what seems to be a flat surface;

- the sky chart takes a whole year to unfold.


If you want to take on the challenge of visualizing the sky as our ancestors did, we have some tips.....


When you observe the sky, you are like this character in the middle of the field. You see the plan of heaven scroll above you as the earth turns. Once you have spotted the 4 cardinal points, your location can become a real observatory. You will see the Milky Way passing over your head. Just like the ancients, you will realize that the Milky Way makes a big loop that closes in on itself. By the way, the Greeks called it the Milky Circle (galaxios kyklos) which is the origin for our word galaxy.

Sphere Obs Voie Lact 0.JPG

The Milky Way separates two celestial worlds. Here we distinguished them using two different colors:

  • the terrestrial part is in green;

  • the oceanic part in blue.

Sphere Obs Voie Lact.JPG

With the rotation of the sky ...

In this illustration, we have projected the celestial sphere onto a rectangular map. This is called a cylindrical projection. We do the same thing with our globe in an atlas. Note the exaggeration of the Big Dipper at the top left. The yellow line is the ecliptic on which the sun, the moon and the planets move past the twelve constellations of the zodiac. On the Milky Way, there are also twelve constellations.

Sky Stellarium for globe.JPG

And here we are again with our two worlds, as well as the Milky Way:

  • in green, the terrestrial - natural world

  • in blue, the oceanic - supernatural world

  • in white, the Milky Way marks the border.

Sky chart Mway 2 worlds.jpg

With a stereo-graphic projection, one can modify the plan to close the circle of the Milky Way. Thus, the earthly world appears as an island (green) surrounded by the ocean (blue).

Constellation Stereograpique round Milk

Now, let's put this stereographic projection flat down and add perspective.

Cosmos Egg 1.jpg

Let's give relief to the terrestrial world.

Cosmos Egg 2.jpg

Flood the ocean part. The island that has appeared thus seems to us to be threatened by the waters of chaos.

Cosmos Egg 3.jpg

So, the Milky Way becomes a beach limiting the continent of the ocean.


There are a host of other symbols to representing this protective boundary between the two worlds. Let's look at some of the many examples:

In the Milky Way, there is a thinner and almost black place. This is the vulnerable point of the heavenly bulwark.

We will notice the following variations in the Milky Way:

- wider bead;

- On the opposite side, a thinner or almost dark side;

- Large beaches or black spots.

These variations of the Milky Way have a direct impact on the stories related to the associated constellations.


Here is the plan of the sky complete with the Milky Way closing in a loop. Notice the thick left (at 9 o'clock) which is the galactic center (see astronomical notions). Between 2 and 3 hours (on the right) we see the thinnest part.

Milk Way no Constellation.JPG

Let's highlight the constellations. At the level of the thin part of the Milky Way, we see the constellation Perseus holding the head of the Medusa, and just below that of the Auriga.

dessin Milky Way Stereographic.JPG

Note the following constellations: Per = Perseus with the Medusa's head, Aur = Auriga (the Coachman), Cyg = Swan, Ser = Serpent, Oph = Ophiuchus (Serpent), Sco = Scorpion..

Stellarium + Rempart + constel.jpg

Now let's remove the drawings from the constellations again ...

Cyg: The two white beads evoke the wings of the Swan; Per: Perseus holds the head of the Medusa that scares any intruder who tries to cross the vulnerable part of the rampart. Aur: Auriga, the Coachman, who is opposed and associated with Ophiuchus in myths; Oph: Ophiuchus fights the Serpent (Ser) whose tail is a long black band that goes back into the Milky Way. Sco: Scorpion illustrates two black spots in the Milky Way. It hurts the heel of the hero Ophiuchus.

Stellarium + Rempart no constel.jpg

All constellations can be classified into three categories according to their location relative to the Milky Way.

  • Those inside the earthly world (the two bears, the lion, the lynx, the two dogs, unicorn, the dragon;

  • Those outside in the marine world (Aquarius, Capricorn, Pisces, Cetus, Pegasus jumping over the sea, Andromeda ...). There are two non aquatic constellations, Taurus and Aries, both on the ecliptic.

  • Those on the milky way or on its periphery which are bellicose constellations.


You may know the universal principle of Chaoskampf: it is the fight against chaos. Some of these conflicts are battles between two clans:

  • One representing the forces of chaos and war, winter and the waves of the sea;

  • The other, the forces that maintain order and peace, the beautiful season, the land.


  • The Trojan war

  • The Ragnarök among the Vikings

  • The War of the Titans

  • In India, the Deva-Asura war and the battle of Kurukshetra.

These involve:

  • The battle of Troy between the Trojans (land and city) and the Achaean (Greek) forces (marines)

  • The Ragnarök among the Vikings opposing the Aesir (order, beautiful season) to the Frost Giants (chaos and winter), taking place during the long winter of the Fimbulvetr

  • The Titanomachy opposing the sons of Chronos (order) to the Titans (chaos)

  • In India, the war between the Devas (order and beautiful season) and the Asuras (chaos and winter);

  • The battle of Kurukshetra (epic of Mahabharata in India) opposing Pandavas (order, incarnation of solar devas) to Kauravas (chaos, incarnation of demons, lunar).


These battles are concentrated on a strategic area of the celestial map: The Milky Way, often described as a bulwark.


Curiously, all bellicose constellations are on this rampart. In addition, all the fighting scenes show us heroes pushing an invader out of the wall:

  • Orion fighting Taurus;

  • Perseus decapitating the Medusa and using the petrifying gaze of her head to repel the enemy;

  • Perseus confronts Cetus to free Andromeda:

  • Ophiuchus fights the Serpent to prevent him from crossing the rampart.

  • The Scorpion threatens the heel of Ophiuchus.

  • Sagittarius throws an arrow towards the Scorpion:

  • The Big Dog (Canis Major) pushes the rabbit away from the rampart;

  • The Centaur brings Lupus out of the rampart;

  • Hercules sends an arrow towards the rampart;

  • The Argos who faces the waves of the sea.


When we have all these concepts in mind, we have the fundamental key to decode a large number of myths around the world. You just have to pay attention to the natural variations specific to each region of the globe.


For example, there is no scorpion in the Nordic countries. The scorpion is replaced by a wolf or a pike with the big mouth (black) who died the foot of the hero.

  • In the Norse, Víðar pierces the head of the wolf Fenrir who tries to hurt his heel.

  • In Finnish Kalevala, Väinämöinen kills the pike of the river of hell (Tuonela) to make the kantele with its jaw.

Fenrir_and_Víðarr_by_Lorenz_Frølich 1895

Ophiuchus fighting against the Serpent. His heel is injured by the Scorpion.


In Finland, pike takes the place of the wolf or scorpion. This freshwater shark can bite the feet of swimmers. Akseli Gallen-Kallel painting, Suuri hauki (The giant pike) 1904. Väinämöinen will make his jaw a musical instrument, the kantele.

Akseli Gallen-Kallel.jpg

Another key ...

Some sacrificial stories play a moral role in alleviating a plague or preventing the return of great chaos.

On this subject, mythographers and ethnologists recognize that René Girard has contributed to understanding the role of sacrifices in communities of many cultures around the world. The study of the heavenly bulwark becomes important to understand the fear of chaos among the ancients.

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