The Mysterious Mix of Myth and Sky Observations in Serbian Folk Astronomy

The Mysterious Mix of Myth and Sky Observations in Serbian Folk Astronomy

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Serbia is one of the Balkan countries that was influenced by many wars. However, even after centuries of very tense events, memory of the traditions from the first inhabitants has survived. Astronomy has strong roots in Serbia. It was explored by people for millennia and the country has one of the most fascinating European folk astronomy disciplines.

The main observatory in Serbia is the Astronomical Observatory Belgrade which opened in 1887. It is one of the oldest scientific institutions in the Balkans. It is also the oldest existing professional observatory in Serbia.

Main building, back view, Astronomical Observatory Belgrade. ( Astronomical Observatory Belgrade )

But the tradition of observing the sky is much older. Every civilization was curious about the space around Earth. Their methods were usually similar, but the imagination and results of analysis were often completely different. This difference is rooted in many cultural issues, including mythology. In Serbia, the culture has a mixture of many aspects. First of all, the people who lived there in ancient times were under Slavic influence. However, there was also a huge impact of Greek and Roman culture on this land.

Gods from the Sky

As in most cultures, the main object of interest for ancient astronomers was the sun. For the ancient Serbians it was anthropomorphized as a man. The sun was connected with all the male aspects of life.

Dažbog - one of the major gods of Slavic mythology, most likely a solar deity and possibly a cultural hero. ( Max presnyakov/CC BY SA 3.0 )

The Moon wasn't seen as a woman, however, but as a brother or the uncle of the Sun. There was no place for the feminine in the case of the Sun and the Moon, what says a lot about the society as well. The planet Venus was considered a sister of the Moon or sometimes she is presented as the Moon’s wife. People in ancient times believed that the new Moon helped to make dreams come true.

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Many of the Serbian folk beliefs related to astronomy have their roots in Proto-Indo-European beliefs. The understanding of the motif of the Sun suggests these origins too. The Sun is depicted as a God's eye riding a horse or in a cart. The moon is depicted as a human and sometimes his children are described. However, nowadays it is hard to pinpoint who the children of the Moon were. They were surely not the stars.

The Trundholm sun chariot - a Nordic Bronze Age artifact discovered in Denmark. It shows a sun chariot, a bronze statue of a horse, and a large bronze disk. ( Nationalmuseet/CC BY SA 3.0 )

Ancient Serbian Stars

The stars were said to be the sisters of the Sun and Moon, or just sisters. They were always associated with women and presented in the female form. Most of the stories related to individual stars are associated with sisterhood or female care, but the constellations and some stars also had a special meaning.

For example, the Big and Little Dippers, which are now called Velika kola and Mala kola (‘kola’ meaning ‘cart’), were associated with asterism (a pattern of a group of stars – smaller than a constellation). It may be one of the first example of asterism in the world. The name for Sirius in the Serbian language is also known. It was called Svinjarka, from the word svinja, meaning pig. It seems that people believed that pigs were related to the beliefs commonly connected with Sirius, although it is hard to find more details about this.

The big and little dippers. ( Bonč/CC BY SA 3.0 )

Venus and Zorya

They also knew of a form of Venus, who in the Slavic mythology has many different names and attributes. Venus was related to the goddess Zorya, who is also known as Zorja, Zarja, Zora, and Zorza.

Sometimes Zorya is described as two or even three beings, but other times she is just one female. She was also a beautiful double guardian goddess known as the Auroras. As a daughter of the Sun, she was associated with the Zorja Utrennjaja, who was the Morning Star linked to protection, horses, light, and exorcism. It was believed that she took care of spiritual cleansing and brought good emotions.

‘Zorya’. ( The Zorya )

Zorya was also connected to the planet Venus and some of her attributes were similar to the Roman Venus and Greek Aphrodite. Slavic tribes worshiped her every morning when the sun was rising and bringing a new day, new hope, and new possibilities to accomplish their goals. As a star connected with daytime, Venus was also related to Danica, a daystar. Venus is always presented as a woman. Sometimes she seems to be connected with the Preodnica, meaning ''crosser over'', who appears on the East and West sides of the sky.

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The Milky Way and Dragons in the Sky

The Milky Way must have been a fascinating object for the people who observed it from ancient primitive observatories. In Serbian it's called Kumova Slama, and there is a legend related to it. According to tradition, someone called ''kum'', associated with the role of the Godfather in later Christian terminology, stole straw from another person. However, as he was carrying it as far away as possible, he lost some of his treasure. A deity took it away and put it in the sky as a warning that all the thieves would be punished.

Meteorites had a very special place in early Slavic Serbian astronomy as well. The citizens of the earliest settlements saw them as dragons. Due to this belief, they were traditionally called “zmaj,” meaning “dragon.” The people observed the long “tail” behind the meteorites and they associated them with dragons. They imagined that the objects had supernatural abilities and believed that they were winged creatures which make a loud scary noise.

Dragon Bridge (Slovene: Zmajski most) is a road bridge located in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. ( FromTheNorth / Flickr )

Modern Serbians Exploring the Sky

Nowadays, this small country has an impressive number of observatories and research in astronomy. Traditions of exploring the sky though a telescope have stayed strong. Analysis of the sky is frequently related to history as well.

Now, researchers try to find out what people in ancient times could have observed from hills and other natural observatories. Due to their work, the discipline called archeoastronomy is thriving and has helped explain many motifs - connecting the history, mythology, and astronomy of Serbia.

Pavilion of Large Refractor “Carl Zeiss” 650/10550 mm of Belgrade Observatory, built 1932. ( Свифт/Svift/CC BY SA 3.0 )

Zombies in Folklore and Mythology

Thanks to television shows like The Walking Dead and Zombie Nation, and movies like World War Z, Dawn of the Dead, and 28 Days Later, the zombie was here, there and everywhere for years – even though, technically-speaking, the rampaging things in 28 Days Later were not really zombies. Granted, that mania has dropped off significantly in the past couple of years (and it may drop even more with the imminent departure of Andrew Lincoln’s character of Rick Grimes in the aforementioned The Walking Dead). It’s a little-known fact, though, that throughout history accounts can be found of creatures that sound very much like the undead. And, just like the less-than-living in The Walking Dead, these ancient monsters savagely fed on the human race. In many cultures, they still do.

For the people of the many islands that comprise the Philippines, its resident zombie is the Aswang. It has two alternative monikers: the Tik-Tok and the Sok-Sok. The names are taken from the odd noises the creatures make when they are on the hunt for human flesh. The Aswang has another string to its bow – if that’s the appropriate terminology to use. As well as lusting after human flesh, the Aswang is also a monster that thrives on human blood. In that sense, the beast is half-zombie and half-vampire. And all-predator.

The Aswang makes for a grim picture: it is skinny in the extreme, is as white as a ghost – which is more than appropriate – and its eyes are pale and bulging. As for its clothes they are typically torn and ragged and they give off a nauseating stench of rotting meat. And, it’s an extremely fast runner. No wonder the zombie parallels are so in evidence. Like just about all zombies, the Aswangs live on the flesh of people. Horrifically, they consider newborn babies to be the most prized meal of all – something which has led pregnant women in the Philippines to ensure that their homes are well-protected and in locked-down mode at night. Interestingly, the Aswang, just like the Middle Eastern Djinn, can take on the form of a large black dog. A connection, maybe?

Moving on, there is the matter of the Ghoul. It’s a deadly and predatory creature that has a particular penchant for lurking around graveyards. There is a very good reason for this: just about all the other paranormal parasites described in this book target the living. The Ghoul, however, is a monster that craves the flesh, bones and blood of recently deceased people. It will dig in crazed fashion when its acute sense of smell alerts it to the fact that there is a fresh (or fresh-ish…) corpse in its midst. The creature will use its hands to dig deep into the ground, throwing dirt here, there and everywhere – until it gets what it seeks and then feeds savagely on the rotting body of the poor, unfortunate soul it has targeted.

Gambia has its very own cursed thing which has zombie-like overtones attached to it. Its resident member of the undead is the Kikiyaon. This diabolical West African terror physically resembles a gargoyle, or a Harpie, of both Roman and Greek lore. A relatively short, humanoid creature with bat-like wings and fiery red eyes, the Kikiyaon is a monster that has a long and horrific history – and for a good reason. In English the word itself, “Kikiyaon,” translates to “soul cannibal.”

The Kikiyaon typically dwells in caves, usually ones which are well hidden in the jungle environment. When the sun has set and darkness is upon the landscape, the Kikiyaon will soar into the night sky, seeking out the vulnerable, the weak and the unwary. When it has found its target, the Kikiyaon will stealthily creep into the home of its victim and softly nip their skin – very often on the neck, which of course inevitably provokes vampire-like imagery. Now, we get to the zombie comparisons.

In no time after the person is bitten, their character changes – and hardly in what we would call a positive way. The person loses their character, and their face takes on a blank appearance – not unlike that of the old-school type of zombie most associated with Haitian voodoo traditions. There is another zombie angle to all of this: after a person is bitten by the Kikiyaon, the victim becomes ill, his or her skin starts to smell of decaying flesh, and finally they die. But, they don’t stay that way: the bite of the Kikiyaon ensures that they will soon return to the land of the semi-living and go on a ferocious spree of killing and eating.

The Evil Mermaids of Africa

Within the lore and history of actual sightings of mermaids and various merbeings all over the world, these creatures have come in a surprisingly wide array of forms. There are the beautiful maidens of legend with their flowing hair and fishtails, the more ape-like fish beasts of other traditions, and pretty much everything in between. Dispositions range all over the place as well, with merbeings running the gamut from seductive sirens, to benevolent protectors of the sea, to shy and reclusive things only fleetingly seen, to vicious, savage monsters that can only be described as sinister and evil. Of the many places from which merbeings are reported, one place that definitely has the latter is the continent of Africa. Here on the Dark Continent, “mermaids” are considered to be far from mere legend, and also seem to be rather far from benevolent.

Many regions of Africa have a rich tradition of mermaids, particularly in the southern portion of the continent. In the country of Zimbabwe mermaids have long featured prominently in various myths and legends, where they are often called the Mondao and are portrayed as malicious creatures that enjoy pulling bathers or swimmers under the waves to their death. Although many see such tales as just spooky lore, there are apparently quite a few Zimbabweans who believe that they actually exist, and incidents or sightings involving mermaids often crop up here.

In 2012, work being carried out at the Gokwe dam in Midlands and the Osborne dam in Manicaland, on reservoirs near the towns of Gokwe, Manicaland, and Mutare, was suspended because workers refused to go to work because they claimed to have been terrorized by the mermaids lurking there, which were said to look like pale-skinned humans with black hair and fish tails. The workers were originally supposed to do repairs and install water pumps there, but became frightened when some people in the area mysteriously vanished and others reported being attacked or chased by these merbeings. Things with the stalled project got so bad that the Zimbabwe Water Resources Minister, Sam Sipepa Nkomo, appeared before a parliamentary committee to explain the situation. Nkomo said that white workers had been brought in because they were not as steeped in such lore, but even they claimed to have spotted the creatures and also refused to go back to work. Rural and Urban Development Minister Ignatius Chombo also made arrangements to have tribal chiefs of the area perform rites and rituals to appease the creatures, if only to put the workers’ minds at ease.

According to the tribal leaders who were consulted, many lakes and reservoirs of the region are inhabited by mermaids, and dams seem to be a favorite place for them to congregate, although they were said to be typically drawn to larger dams than the ones that had been plagued, such as the huge dam at Lake Kariba, which is a hotbed of such sightings. When faced with the question of whether they thought these creatures really exist, they were unanimous and adamant in their assertion that they do. When asked if the mermaids of Zimbabwe’s lakes were real, one chief Edison Chihota of Mashonaland East said “As a custodian of the traditional I have no doubt. For anyone to dispute this is also disputing him or herself.” For his part, Nkomo was more worried about that the fact that the workers refused to come back, and was going through with the rituals merely to dispel fears. He was skeptical that their problems were being caused by literal mermaids, blaming it on a mix of superstition perhaps combined with optical illusions and dangerous water currents. He would say of the matter:

In Mutare what I think is happening is that there must be a sanction underneath there which creates a hole and the water will actually be swirling violently that if you fell in you will not come out, even if you had an oxygen mask.

Another African nation in the same general region which has long experienced mermaid phenomena is South Africa. Such tales and lore go back for centuries here, and ancient rock paintings of humanoids with fish tails drawn by the Khoi-san people of the region have been found in one of the most arid areas of the country, in a vast barren, semi-desert wasteland known as the Karoo. Just why this desert dwelling people would have mermaids as part of their lore remains a mystery, but the region did once lie underwater, and there have been sightings of such creatures reported from the greener and more fertile Klein Karoo to the south, where mountain spring water creates pools and even water filled caverns where the creatures are said to live. These mountain dwelling mermaids are in no way friendly, and have long been said to lure travelers to the water in order to drown them. These creatures are typically not seen as flesh and blood creatures, but rather as powerful spirits or demons, and are greatly revered and feared by tribes of the area.

Ancient rock painting of mermaids at the Karoo, South Africa

In some areas of South Africa mermaids are often called the Kaaiman, interestingly from the German word for “caiman,” and are typically described as a race of malevolent creatures that drown their victims and are typically described as looking like half-fish women with black hair and glowing red eyes. One sighting report comes from 2008, at the quaint and isolated rural village of Suurbraak. Local witness Daniel Cupido claimed that he had been hanging out with some friends along the banks of the Buffelsjags River on the evening of January 5 when they suddenly heard a curious sound coming from a nearby low water bridge that sounded like someone “bashing on a wall.” When they went to investigate, it is claimed that in the murky darkness under the bridge they could make out what looked like a white woman with long black hair. The woman seemed to be in trouble, as she was thrashing about in the water, and Cupido allegedly waded into the water to try and help her out, but moments later came running back in a state of panic.

When his friends asked him what had happened he told them that the woman’s eyes had had a red, flickering glow to them, and that her gaze had been “hypnotic.” One of the friends, a Martin Olckers, went over to see the thing for himself, and claims that what he saw profoundly scared him. There swimming through the water around the bridge he could see the same woman who his friend had described, complete with the red shine in her eyes. He said that the figure was definitely female and that the whole time he watched her she made a sound reminiscent of crying, which he described as “the strangest sound.” The mermaid was also said to have an ethereal silver-white sheen around it. Although they say none of those present had ever believed in the stories of the Kaaiman before, this bizarre encounter apparently convinced them that the creatures were real. None of them were found to have been drinking alcohol, and all of them seemed genuinely unsettled by the experience.

Other reports from South Africa showcase the creature’s more sinister tendencies. On December 31, 2015, a 12-year-old boy named Siyabonga Masango in Mpumalanga, South Africa, reportedly went to the bank of a tributary of the Sabie River to meet his friends for a swim and never returned. When authorities were brought in and the area searched, no sign of the boy was turned up despite an intensive investigation by diving teams. Although police blamed strong currents in the river at the time or a crocodile attack for Masango’s disappearance, the boy’s family explained to them that the boy had been kidnapped by mermaid, an assertion backed up by another eyewitness who claimed that he had seen the boy pulled into the water by the pale-skinned creature. The witness claimed that he had then gone to try to help the boy but that he had completely disappeared into the muddy, murky water, pulled in by something that very well could have been coiling to lash out at him as well.

The place where Masango allegedly disappeared

Another evil mermaid is said to lurk about Marikana dam, the near the town of Mabopane, north of Pretoria, and has been blamed for at least one death there. Known to the locals as the Mamogashwa, it is described as being half-human and half-fish, with the upper body resembling a woman. The strange merbeing has supposedly been seen prowling about the waters of the dam on numerous occasions, as well as being spotted several times basking on the banks of the lake, and is believed by the locals to not only cause drownings, but also to induce bad dreams in the villagers.

In one recent account from an article from the Rekord North news site, 15-year-old Mpho Shongwe was out by the dam with some friends in April of 2016 when they saw what they thought to be a woman swimming in the water, who beckoned them closer. As they approached, they allegedly noticed that this was no ordinary woman, and that from the waist down she had the body and tail of a fish. The frightened kids then tried to run away, and that was when the creature supposedly lurched up from the water to grab Shongwe and pull him under the surface as he screamed for help. When other alarmed villagers arrived to help out, the boy’s lifeless body was purportedly found lying a few meters from the dam, but there was no sign of the mermaid the other boys claimed to have seen. According to the article, this is apparently not the only death that the mermaid has been responsible for, and a village resident named Elsie Nhlapo was quoted as saying in the wake of the attack on Shonwe:

We told the police about the mermaid but they are afraid to go there to investigate. Three people that I am aware of, two kids and an adult were killed at the dam but police have refused to go near the dam.

One of the weirder accounts of a mermaid in South Africa is the totally bonkers tale of a mermaid that was supposedly seen flying through the sky in November of 2014 in the city of Tshwane, and here is where we get into some surreal territory. The mermaid was allegedly sighted flying over the Morula Sun Shopping Complex parking lot from the direction of the Morula Sun Casino and was seen by several witnesses. The mermaid is said to be a long-time nuisance of the area, occasionally taking the form of a woman to go to the casino and complain about the noise before slinking back off to the water, but this seems to be the first time it was seen to fly. One witness said of the situation:

I heard people gasp and scream. There was a mermaid in the air. It came from the direction of the Morula Sun Casino. When I was a child, we were told a mermaid lived in a nearby river. I thought it was just a fairytale to scare us away from the river but I was proved wrong.

Another particularly strange account comes from the country of Tanzania, where on May 21, 1996 a government owned ferry called the MV Bukoba capsized 56km off the coast of Mwanza. The disaster was already notable for the fact that not only did approximately 1,000 people lose their lives, but also among the dead was Abu Ubaidah al-Banshiri, who at the time had been the second in command of al-Qaeda and the top guy in their African base of operations. Two men from the terrorist organization were even allegedly sent in to investigate the incident in order to ascertain whether or not he had been assassinated. In addition to this was a peculiar story told by rescue divers sifting through the wreckage in the aftermath of the disaster. Some of the divers reportedly came to the surface scared out of their wits, claiming that a mermaid was patrolling the wreck and speaking to them, telling them to stop looking for dead bodies and threatening violence if they did not listen. The mermaid was also accused of actively chasing divers away.

If these creatures are real in any sense at all, if there is any truth to any of this, whether as mysterious creatures or some form of spiritual entity, one wonders why they are so damn evil in Africa. Whatever the answer to that may be, there can be no doubt that mermaids are firmly rooted in the lore of many African nations, and that many of the local populace and tribes believe in their existence, perhaps coloring these alleged events with superstition and exaggeration. There is no way of knowing how true any of this is, but it is an interesting glimpse into tales of mermaids that are not only perhaps different than the way they are portrayed elsewhere, but also a look at this phenomenon in a faraway, exotic land that many people may not have ever connected to mermaids at all.

5. Weaving of Kente Cloth Taught by a Spider

Kente cloth is a type of silk and cotton fabric made of interwoven cloth strips and is native to the Akan ethnic group. It is a royal and sacred cloth and was worn only by kings during special occasions and festivities.

This cloth used to be woven by only men as it was believed that a woman&aposs menstrual cycle could interfere with its production.

The cloth&aposs legend dates back 375 years in a small city called Bonwire in the Ashanti Kingdom. Two brothers, Kurugu and Ameyaw, went hunting one afternoon and found a spider weaving an amazing web. They observed the details and mechanics of the web weaving and returned home to implement it. They successfully made their first cloth using black and white fibers from a raffia tree.

Before Roswell: Strange Accounts of Very Old UFO Crashes

Perhaps the most well known supposed UFO crash in history is the one that allegedly happened in Roswell, New Mexico back in 1947. It really set off the boom of interest in flying saucers, and many people mark it as one of the heralds of the modern UFO craze. Yet the UFO phenomenon has been observed since far before this, all the way back to ancient times, and it also seems that aliens have been crashing their spaceships here for just about as long.

Possibly one of the earliest reports of an actual UFO crash comes from all the way back in the 9th century, and is held within the pages of an obscure Latin manuscript called Liber contra insulam vulgi opinionem. In the very brief report, the Archbishop of Lyons is talking about the French peasants when suddenly he sort of makes an offhand mention of what seems to be UFOs and aliens. He says that these French peasants often a speak of a region they called Magonia, “from whence come ships in the clouds.” According to the odd account, the people in this region often traded with these “storm wizards,” and that sometimes these ships would fall from the sky. In one case, he mentions that he had personally seen these ships, and that he had been present when four of these “wizards” fell from their ship to the earth, after which they had been stoned to death. The whole thing is written of matter-of-factly as if it is just a little everyday anecdote, before the manuscript moves on to leave us wondering just what these ships and their “storm wizards” could have been.

In 1211 AD we have another very early report that seems to be of a UFO crash. It supposedly happened in the remote town of Cloera, where a very bizarre series of events seems to have taken place above a church dedicated to St. Kinarus as the people were holding mass there. An English historical chronicler called Gervase of Tilbury would write of what happened thusly:

It befell that an anchor was dropped from the sky, with a rope attached to it, and one of the flukes caught in the arch above the church door. The people rushed out of the church and saw in the sky a ship with men on board, floating before the anchor cable, and they saw a man leap overboard and jump down to the anchor, as if to release it. He looked as if he were swimming in water. The folk rushed up and tried to seize him but the Bishop forbade the people to hold the man, for it might kill him, he said. The man was freed, and hurried up to the ship, where the crew cut the rope and the ship sailed out of sight. But the anchor is in the church, and has been there ever since, as a testimony.

What was going on here? It sounds very much like this could have been an early UFO account, but it is hard to say for sure. Moving along in years we come to a report that has made the rounds a bit and which allegedly occurred in 1790, in the French town of Alencon, just west of Paris. The report was quoted by the famed UFO researcher Dr Jacques Vallee in 1975, when he claimed that he had heard this from a man named Antonio Fenoglio, who had allegedly uncovered it while perusing the Archives of the French Academy of Sciences, in Paris in 1967. According to this alleged report, in June of 1790 a Paris police inspector by the name of Liabeuf was sent to the rural village to investigate a strange incident that had happened there. Fenoglio claimed that the police inspector’s report read:

At 5 A.M., on June 12th, several farmers caught sight of an enormous globe which seemed surrounded with flames. First they thought it was perhaps a balloon that had caught fire, but the great velocity and the whistling sound which came from that body intrigued them. The globe slowed down, made some oscillations and precipitated itself towards the top of a hill, unearthing plants along the slope. The heat which emanated from it was so intense that soon the grass and the small tree started burning. The peasants succeeded in controlling the fire which threatened to spread to the whole area. In the evening this sphere was still warm and an extraordinary happened, not to say an incredible thing.

The witnesses were two mayors, a doctor and three other authorities who confirm my report, in addition to the dozens of peasants who were present. This sphere, which would have been large enough to contain a carriage, had not suffered from all that flight. It excited so much curiosity that people came from all parts to see it. Then all of a sudden a kind of door opened and, there is the interesting thing, a person like us came out of it, but this person was dressed in a strange way, wearing a tight-fitting suit and, seeing all that crowd, said some words which were not understood and fled into the woods. Instinctively, the peasants stepped back, in fear, and this saved them because soon after that the sphere exploded in silence, throwing pieces everywhere, and these pieces burned until they were reduced to powder. Researches were initiated to find the mysterious man, but he seemed to have dissolved.

It is a pretty intriguing and spectacular report, and Vallee is a respected researcher, but in the end it doesn’t seem he that he ever saw the supposed original document for himself, and it all comes exclusively from a 1967 claim by Fenoglio. Furthermore, the report seems to be very modern in its depiction and wording, and there is also the fact that the Academy of Sciences has apparently denied that any such document exists, leading one to believe that this may have been a hoax. Still, if it is real, then it is a truly perplexing case of what seems to be an early UFO crash.

Finally, we come to the most recent of these cases, with a more well-known account from 1897, in the small town of Aurora, Texas. At 6 AM on April 17 of that year, it was reported that a great, mechanical airship of some sort had suddenly descended from the sky, sailed over the town square, and smashed into a windmill on the property of a Judge Proctor. This was far from the end of the incident, as it would soon become apparent that this was no normal airship, and its pilot was no normal man. A report by a S.E Haydon in the Dallas Evening News said of the event:

Evidently some of the machinery was out of order, for it was making a speed of only ten or twelve miles an hour and gradually settling toward the Earth. It sailed directly over the public square, and when it reached the north part of town collided with the tower of Judge Proctor’s windmill and went to pieces with a terrific explosion, scattering debris over several acres of ground, wrecking the windmill and water tank and destroying the judge’s flower garden.

The pilot of the ship is supposed to have been the only one on board, and while his remains are badly disfigured, enough of the original has been picked up to show that he was not an inhabitant of this world. Mr. T.J Weems, the United States signal service office at this place and an authority on astronomy, gives it as his opinion that he was a native of the planet Mars. Papers found on his person – evidently the record of his travels – are written in some unknown hieroglyphics, and can not be deciphered.

The ship was too badly wrecked to form any conclusion as to its construction or motive power. It was built of an unknown metal, resembling somewhat a mixture of aluminum and silver, and it must have weighed several tons. The town is full today of people who are viewing the wreck and gathering specimens of the strange metal from the debris. The pilot’s funeral will take place at noon tomorrow.

The wreckage was supposedly disposed of in a well and the alien body buried in a grave at the town cemetery, and from here the story picks up all kinds of strange elements. Some versions say that the military swooped in to whisk away the ship and its pilot. Others say the wreckage contaminated the water supply and led to inexplicable illnesses. The burial plot is said to still be in the town cemetery, which has an official plaque from the Texas Historical Commission that mentions the strange incident. There have been plenty of people who have asked permission to dig the alien’s grave up, but the city has always denied these requests. Considering that at the time Aurora was falling on hard times and this supposed incident drew in huge crowds of people, it has been suggested that this was all a hoax and a publicity stunt, but in the end, who knows what is going on here. Whatever really did happen on that day in 1897, whether it was a hoax or there is any truth to it, the tale of the airship and the alien grave have become a popular local legend.

These reports mostly have an air of myth and mystique about them, partly because they are so lost to the mists of time and shrouded in the shadows of history. There is very little we can do to really know for sure what was seen back in these early times, or how to unwind the truth from possible fabrication. However, if there is any truth to it all, then it appears that UFOs crashing to earth are not a purely modern phenomenon, and such cases serve to really fire up the imagination.


Sun dogs are commonly caused by the refraction and scattering of light from plate-shaped hexagonal ice crystals either suspended in high and cold cirrus or cirrostratus clouds, or drifting in freezing moist air at low levels as diamond dust. [2] The crystals act as prisms, bending the light rays passing through them with a minimum deflection of 22°. As the crystals gently float downwards with their large hexagonal faces almost horizontal, sunlight is refracted horizontally, and sun dogs are seen to the left and right of the Sun. Larger plates wobble more, and thus produce taller sundogs. [3]

Sun dogs are red-colored at the side nearest the Sun farther out the colors grade through oranges to blue. The colors overlap considerably and are muted, never pure or saturated. [4] The colors of the sun dog finally merge into the white of the parhelic circle (if the latter is visible). [5]

The same plate-shaped ice crystals that cause sun dogs are also responsible for the colorful circumzenithal arc, meaning that these two types of halo tend to co-occur. [6] The latter is often missed by viewers, since it is located more or less directly overhead. Another halo variety often seen together with sun dogs is the 22° halo, which forms a ring at roughly the same angular distance from the sun as the sun dogs, thus appearing to interconnect them. As the Sun rises higher, the rays passing through the plate crystals are increasingly skewed from the horizontal plane, causing their angle of deviation to increase and the sun dogs to move farther from the 22° halo, while staying at the same elevation. [7]

It is possible to predict the forms of sun dogs as would be seen on other planets and moons. Mars might have sun dogs formed by both water-ice and CO2-ice. On the gas giant planets—Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune—other crystals form clouds of ammonia, methane, and other substances that can produce halos with four or more sun dogs. [8]

A somewhat common misconception among the general public is to refer to any member of the ice halo family as a "sun dog" (especially the 22° halo, being one of the most common varieties). However, sun dogs represent just one of many different types of halos. For referring to the atmospheric phenomenon in general, the term (ice crystal) halo(s) is more appropriate.

The exact etymology of sun dog largely remains a mystery. The Oxford English Dictionary says it is "of obscure origin". [9]

In Abram Palmer's 1882 book Folk-etymology: A Dictionary of Verbal Corruptions Or Words Perverted in Form Or Meaning, by False Derivation Or Mistaken Analogy, sun-dogs are defined:

The phenomena [sic] of false suns which sometimes attend or dog the true when seen through the mist (parhelions). In Norfolk a sun-dog is a light spot near the sun, and water-dogs are the light watery clouds dog here is no doubt the same word as dag, dew or mist as "a little dag of rain" (Philolog. Soc. Trans. 1855, p. 80). Cf. Icel. dogg, Dan. and Swed. dug = Eng. "dew." [10]

(Dog in English as a verb can mean "hunt, track, or follow", [11] so Dog the true [sun] has meant track the true [sun] since the 1510s. [12] )

Alternatively, Jonas Persson suggested that out of Norse mythology and archaic names — Danish: solhunde (sun dog), Norwegian: solhund (sun dog), Swedish: solvarg (sun wolf) — in the Scandinavian languages, constellations of two wolves hunting the Sun and the Moon, one after and one before, may be a possible origin for the term. [13]

Parhelion (plural parhelia) comes from Ancient Greek: παρήλιον (parēlion, 'beside the sun' from παρά (para, 'beside') and ἥλιος (helios, 'sun')). [14]

In the Anglo-Cornish dialect of Cornwall, United Kingdom, sun dogs are known as weather dogs (described as "a short segment of a rainbow seen on the horizon, foreshowing foul weather"). It is also known as a lagas in the sky which comes from the Cornish language term for the sun dog lagas awel meaning 'weather's eye' (lagas, 'eye' and awel, 'weather/wind'). This is in turn related to the Anglo-Cornish term cock's eye for a halo round the sun or the moon, also a portent of bad weather. [15]

Greece Edit

Aristotle (Meteorology III.2, 372a14) notes that "two mock suns rose with the sun and followed it all through the day until sunset." He says that "mock suns" are always to the side, never above or below, most commonly at sunrise or sunset, more rarely in the middle of the day. [16]

The poet Aratus (Phaenomena, lines 880–891) mentions parhelia as part of his catalogue of Weather Signs according to him, they can indicate rain, wind, or an approaching storm. [17]

Artemidorus in his Oneirocritica ('On the Interpretation of Dreams') included the mock suns amongst a list of celestial deities. [18]

Rome Edit

A passage in Cicero's On the Republic (54–51 BC) is one of many by Greek and Roman authors who refer to sun dogs and similar phenomena:

Be it so, said Tubero and since you invite me to discussion, and present the opportunity, let us first examine, before any one else arrives, what can be the nature of the parhelion, or double sun, which was mentioned in the senate. Those that affirm they witnessed this prodigy are neither few nor unworthy of credit, so that there is more reason for investigation than incredulity. [19]

Seneca makes an incidental reference to sun dogs in the first book of his Naturales Quaestiones. [20]

The 2nd-century Roman writer and philosopher Apuleius in his Apologia XV says "What is the cause of the prismatic colours of the rainbow, or of the appearance in heaven of two rival images of the sun, with sundry other phenomena treated in a monumental volume by Archimedes of Syracuse." [ citation needed ]

Jerusalem Edit

Fulcher of Chartres, writing in Jerusalem in the early twelfth century, notes in his Historia Hierosolymitana (1127) that on February 23, 1106

. from the third hour (9 am) until midday, we saw left and right from the Sun what looked like two other Suns: they did not shine like the big one, but smaller in appearance and radiance they reddened moderately. Above their circle a halo appeared, shining very brightly, extending in its breadth as if it were some kind of city. Inside this circle a half-circle appeared, similar to a rainbow, distinct in its fourfold color, in the higher part curved towards the two aforementioned Suns, touching them in an embrace of the Sun. [21]

Wars of the Roses Edit

The prelude to the Battle of Mortimer's Cross in Herefordshire, England in 1461 is supposed to have involved the appearance of a halo display with three "suns". The Yorkist commander, later Edward IV of England, convinced his initially frightened troops that it represented the three sons of the Duke of York, and Edward's troops won a decisive victory. The event was dramatized by William Shakespeare in King Henry VI, Part 3, [22] and by Sharon Kay Penman in The Sunne In Splendour.

Jakob Hutter Edit

Another early clear description of sun dogs is by Jacob Hutter, who wrote in his Brotherly Faithfulness: Epistles from a Time of Persecution:

My beloved children, I want to tell you that on the day after the departure of our brothers Kuntz and Michel, on a Friday, we saw three suns in the sky for a good long time, about an hour, as well as two rainbows. These had their backs turned toward each other, almost touching in the middle, and their ends pointed away from each other. And this I, Jakob, saw with my own eyes, and many brothers and sisters saw it with me. After a while the two suns and rainbows disappeared, and only the one sun remained. Even though the other two suns were not as bright as the one, they were clearly visible. I feel this was no small miracle… [23]

The observation most likely occurred in Auspitz (Hustopeče), Moravia on 31 October 1533. The original was written in German and is from a letter originally sent in November 1533 from Auspitz in Moravia to the Adige Valley in Tyrol. The Kuntz Maurer and Michel Schuster mentioned in the letter left Hutter on the Thursday after the feast day of Simon and Jude, which is 28 October. The Thursday after was 30 October. [24] It is likely that the "two rainbows with their backs turned toward each other, almost touching" involved two further halo phenomena, possibly a circumzenithal arc (prone to co-occur with sun dogs) together with a partial 46° halo or supralateral arc. [25]

Vädersolstavlan Edit

While mostly known and often quoted for being the oldest color depiction of the city of Stockholm, Vädersolstavlan (Swedish "The Sundog Painting", literally "The Weather Sun Painting") is arguably [ citation needed ] also one of the oldest known depictions of a halo display, including a pair of sun dogs. For two hours in the morning of 20 April 1535, the skies over the city were filled with white circles and arcs crossing the sky, while additional suns (i.e., sun dogs) appeared around the sun. The phenomenon quickly resulted in rumours of an omen of God's forthcoming revenge on King Gustav Vasa (1496–1560) for having introduced Protestantism during the 1520s and for being heavy-handed with his enemies allied with the Danish king. [ citation needed ]

Hoping to end speculations, the Chancellor and Lutheran scholar Olaus Petri (1493–1552) ordered a painting to be produced documenting the event. When confronted with the painting, the king, however, interpreted it as a conspiracy – the real sun of course being himself threatened by competing fake suns, one being Olaus Petri and the other the clergyman and scholar Laurentius Andreae (1470–1552), both thus accused of treachery, but eventually escaping capital punishment. The original painting is lost, but a copy from the 1630s survives and can still be seen in the church Storkyrkan in central Stockholm.

Rome, 1629 and 1630 Edit

A series of complex parhelia displays in Rome in 1629, and again in 1630, were described by Christoph Scheiner in his book Parhelia, one of the earliest works on the subject. It had a profound effect, causing René Descartes to interrupt his metaphysical studies and led to his work of natural philosophy called The World. [26]

Gdańsk, 1661 Edit

On 20 February 1661 the people of Gdańsk witnessed a complex halo display, described by Georg Fehlau in a pamphlet, the Sevenfold Sun Miracle, and again the following year by Johannes Hevelius in his book, Mercurius in Sole visus Gedani.

St Petersburg, 1790 Edit

On 18 June 1790 Johan Tobias Lowitz [de] , in St Petersburg, observed a complex display of haloes and parhelia which included his Lowitz arcs.

Newfoundland, 1843 Edit

In 1843, winter in the British Colony of Newfoundland was referred to as the 'Winter of Three Suns' and was unusually cold with 15 days of temperatures between 3–10 degrees below zero. [27]

Great Sioux War of 1876–77 Edit

"Part of the time we marched in the teeth of a biting storm of snow, and at every hour of the day the sun could be discerned sulking behind soft grey mists in company with rivals, known in the language of the plains as 'Sun-dogs', whose parahelic splendors warned the traveler of the approach of the ever-to-be-dreaded 'blizzard'." [28]

Inner Mongolia, China, 14 February 2020 Edit

On 14 February 2020, the people of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region witnessed a complex halo display, in which all five sun halos were linked to each other by rays, forming a circle among them. [29]


Divinity Edit

The Serer people believe in a supreme deity called Roog (or Rog) and sometimes referred to as Roog Sene ("Roog The Immensity" or "The Merciful God"). [6] Serer tradition deals with various dimensions of life, death, space and time, ancestral spirit communications and cosmology. There are also other lesser gods, goddesses and supernatural spirits or genie (pangool or nguus [7] ) such as the fangool Mendiss (or Mindis), a female protector of Fatick Region and the arm of the sea that bears her name the god Tiurakh (var : Thiorak or Tulrakh) – god of wealth, and the god Takhar (var : Taahkarr) – god of justice or vengeance. [8] [9] Roog is neither the devil nor a genie, but the Lord of creation. [10]

Roog is the very embodiment of both male and female to whom offerings are made at the foot of trees, such as the sacred baobab tree, the sea, the river such as the sacred River Sine, in people's own homes or community shrine etc. Roog Sene is reachable perhaps to a lesser extent by the Serer high priests and priestesses (Saltigue), who have been initiated and possess the knowledge and power to organise their thoughts into a single cohesive unit. However, Roog is always in watch of its children and always available to them. [11]

Divinity and humanity Edit

In Serer, Roog Sene is the lifeblood to which the incorruptible and sanctified soul returns to eternal peace after they depart the living world. Roog Sene sees, knows and hears everything, but does not interfere in the day-to-day affairs of the living world. Instead, lesser gods and goddesses act as Roog's assistants in the physical world. Individuals have the free will to either live a good and spiritually fulfilled life in accordance with Serer religious doctrines or waver from such doctrines by living an unsanctified lifestyle in the physical world. Those who live their lives contrary to the teachings will be rightfully punished in the afterlife. [12]

Ancestral spirits and saints Edit

Ordinary Serers address their prayers to the pangool (the Serer ancestral spirits and saints) as they are the intermediaries between the living world and the divine. An orthodox Serer must remain faithful to the ancestral spirits as the soul is sanctified as a result of the ancestors' intercession between the living world and the divine. The pangool have both a historical significance as well as a religious one. They are connected to the history of the Serer by virtue of the fact that the pangool is associated with the founding of Serer villages and towns as a group of pangool would accompany village founders called "lamane" (or laman - who were their ancient kings) as they make their journey looking for land to exploit. Without them, the lamane exploits would not have been possible. In the religious sense, these ancient lamanes created shrines to these pangool, thereby becoming the priests and custodians of the shrine. As such, "they became the intermediaries among the land, the people and the pangool". [13]

Whenever any member of the lamanic lineage dies, the whole Serer community celebrates in honour of the exemplary lives they had lived on earth in accordance with the teachings of the Serer religion. Serer prayers are addressed to the pangool who act as intercessors between the living world and the divine. In addressing their prayers to the pangool, the Serers chant ancient songs and offer sacrifices such as bull, sheep, goat, chicken or harvested crops.

Afterlife Edit

The immortality of the soul and reincarnation (ciiɗ in Serer [14] ) is a strongly held belief in Serer religion. The pangool are canonised [ where? ] as holy saints, and will be called upon and venerated, and have the power to intercede between the living and the divine. The Serer strive to be accepted by their ancestors who have long departed and to gain the ability to intercede with the divine. Failure to do so results in rejection by the ancestors and becoming a lost and wandering soul. [10] [15]

Each Serer family has a totem ("Taana"). Totems are prohibitions as well as guardians. They can be animals and plants among other beings. For example, the totem of the Joof family is the antelope. Any brutality against this animal by the Joof family is prohibited. This respect gives the Joof family holy protection. The totem of the Njie family is the lion the totem of the Sène family is the hare and for the Sarr family is the giraffe and the camel. [16] [17]

Both men and women can be initiated into the secret order of the Saltigue (Spiritual Elder). In accordance with Serer religious doctrines, for one to become a Saltigue, one must be initiated which is somewhat reserved for a small number of insiders, particularly in the mysteries of the universe and the unseen world. The Xooy (Xoy or Khoy) ceremony is a special religious event in the Serer religious calendar. It is the time when the initiated Saltigue (Serer High Priests and Priestesses) come together to literally predict the future in front of the community. These diviners and healers deliver sermons at the Xooy Ceremony which relates to the future weather, politics, economics, and so on. [18] The event brings together thousands of people to Holy Sine from all over the world. Ultra orthodox Serers and Serers who "syncretise" (converte to Islam or Christianity and who mix their newly found religion with the old Serer religion) as well as non-Serers such as the Lebou people (who are a distinct group but still revere the ancient religious practices of their Serer ancestors) among others gather at Sine for this ancient ceremony. Serers who live in the West sometimes spend months planning for the pilgrimage. The event goes on for several days where the Saltigue take centre stage and the ceremony usually begins in the first week of June at Fatick.

    (variation: Xoy or Khoy)
  • Jobai
  • Randou Rande
  • Mindisse
  • Mbosseh
  • Mboudaye
  • Tobaski
  • Gamo (var: Gamou)
  • Tourou Peithie [19]
  • Daqaar mboob [20]
  • Raan Festival

Raan festival Edit

The Raan festival of Tukar takes place in the old village of Tukar founded by Lamane Jegan Joof (or Lamane Djigan Diouf in French speaking Senegal) around the 11th century. [21] [22] It is headed by his descendants (the Lamanic lineage). The Raan occurs every year on the second Thursday after the appearance of the new moon in April. On the morning of Raan, the Lamane would prepare offerings of millet, sour milk and sugar. After sunrise, the Lamane makes a visit to the sacred pond – the shrine of Saint Luguuñ Joof who guided Lamane Jegan Joof after he migrated from Lambaye (north of Sine). The Lamane would make an offering to Saint Luguuñ and spends the early morning in ritual prayer and meditation. After that, he makes a tour of Tukar and perform ritual offerings of milk, millet and wine as well as small animals at key shrines, trees, and sacred locations. The people make their way to the compound of the chief Saltigue (the Serer high priests and priestess – who are the "hereditary rain priests selected from the Lamane's lineage for their oracular talent"). [23]

Day of rest Edit

In Serer religion, Monday is the day of rest. Cultural activities such as Njom or "Laamb" (Senegalese wrestling) and weddings are also prohibited on Thursday. [10]

Marriage Edit

Courting for a wife is permitted but with boundaries. Women are given respect and honour in Serer religion. The woman must not be dishonoured or engaged in a physical relationship until after she has been married. When a man desires a woman, the man provides the woman gifts as a mark of interest. If the woman and her family accept, this then becomes an implied contract that she should therefore not court or accept gifts from another man whose aim is to court her. [24] [25]

Premarital relationship Edit

Were a young man and a woman found engaged in premarital relationships, both are exiled to avoid bringing shame to the family, even if pregnancy resulted from that courtship. [24]

Adultery Edit

Adultery is dealt with by the Serer jurisprudence of MBAAX DAK A TIIT (the rule of compensation). [26] If a married woman engaged in adultery with another man, both adulterers are humiliated in different ways. The wronged male spouse (the husband) is entitled to take the undergarment of the other male and hang it outside his house to show that the male lover had broken custom by committing adultery with his wife. The lover would be shunned from the Serer society no family would want to marry into his family and he would be excommunicated. This was and is seen as extremely humiliating many male Serers have been known to take their own lives because they couldn't bear the humiliation. [24] [27] The public display of undergarments was not applied to women when women marry in Serer society, they braid their hair in a particular style, which is restricted to married women - it is a symbol of their status, which is highly valued in Serer society. An adulteress's female relatives unbraid her hair. This is so humiliating and degrading for a married woman that many women have been known to commit suicide rather than endure the shame. [24] [27] The wronged man can forgive both his wife and her lover if he chooses to. The adulterers and their respective families must gather at the king, chief, or elder's compound to formally seek forgiveness. This will be in front of the community because the rules that govern society have been broken. The doctrine extends to both married men and women. Protection is given to the wronged spouse regardless of his or her gender. [28] [27]

Murder Edit

In the past, where someone kills another person, the victim's family have the right to either forgive or seek vengeance. Again, the murderer and his family will gather at a local centre headed by the Chief or the palace headed by the King. Before this judgement, the murderer's family will cook some food (millet) to be shared among the community and the victim's family. The victim's family will nominate a strong man armed with a spear with a piece of cooked lamb or beef at the end of it. This assassin taking his instruction from the victim's family will run towards the murderer who has now got his mouth open waiting for his judgement. If the assassin killed the murderer with his spear, then that is the end of it, the victim's family have made their judgment. After that, the food that had been cooked would not be eaten and everyone would disperse. From that day on, the families are strangers to each other. If on the other hand the assassin ran and gently feed the murderer with the piece of meat sticking at his spear, then that signals that the victim's family have forgiven the murderer. In that case, the community would enjoy the meal and the two families would be sealed as one and sometimes even marry off their children to each other. [28] [29]

Serers may wear an item belonging to their ancestor, such as the hair of an ancestor or an ancestor's treasured belonging, which they turn into juju on their person or visibly on their necks. [30]

The Serers also have an ancient knowledge of herbalism which is passed down and takes years to acquire. [31] [32] The Senegalese government has set a school and centre to preserve this ancient knowledge and teach it to the young. The CEMETRA (Centre Expérimental de Médecine Traditionnelle de Fatick) Membership alone consist of at least 550 professional Serer healers in the Serer region of Sine-Saloum. [33]

Several traditional practices linked with land and agricultural activities are known, two examples are described below:

  • Prediction ceremonies organized by the Saltige, who are considered to be the custodians of indigenous knowledge. Such meetings are aimed at providing information and warning people about what will happen in the village during the next rainy season.
  • Preparation of sowings, a ceremony called Daqaar mboob aimed at ensuring good millet or groundnut production. For this purpose, every grower has to obtain something called Xos, further to a competitive ceremony consisting of hunting, racing, etc. [31]

As the old pagan festivals are borrowed and altered by Christianity which came later, [34] the names of ancient Serer religious festivals were also borrowed by Senegambian Muslims in a different way to describe genuine Islamic festivals in their own language. The Serers are one of very few communities in Senegambia apart from the Jolas who actually have a name for god[s] which is not borrowed from Arabic but indigenous to their language. [35] Tobaski (var : Tabaski) was an ancient Serer hunting festival Gamo was an ancient Serer divination festival Korite [from the Serer word kor [36] ] was a male initiation rite Weri Kor was the season (or month) Serer males went through their initiation rites. Gamo (comes from the old Serer word Gamahou, variation : Gamohou). "Eid al kabir" or "eidul adha" (which are Arabic) are different from Serer Tobaski, but the Senegambian Muslims loaned Tobaski from Serer religion to describe "Eid al Kabir". Gamo also derives from Serer religion. [37] [38] The Arabic word for it is "Mawlid" or "Mawlid an-Nabi" (which celebrates the birth of Muhammad). Weri Kor (the month of fasting, "Ramadan" in Arabic) and Koriteh or Korité ("Aïd-el-fitr" in Arabic which celebrates the end of the month of fasting) also comes from the Serer language.

The dead, especially those from the upper echelons of society, were mummified in order to prepare them for the afterlife (Jaaniiw). They were accompanied by grave goods including gold, silver, metal, their armour and other personal objects. Mummification is less common now, especially post-independence. [39] [29] [40] [41] The dead were buried in a pyramid shaped tomb. [29] [42]

The Serer griots play a vital and religious role on the death of a Serer King. On the death of a Serer king, the Fara Lamb Sine (the chief griot in the Serer Kingdom of Sine) would bury his treasured drum (the junjung) with the king. His other drums would be played for the last time before their burial in the ground facing east. The griots then chant ancient songs marked by sadness and praise for the departed king. The last time this ceremony occurred was on 8 March 1969 following the death of the last king of Sine – Maad a Sinig Mahecor Joof (Serer: Maye Koor Juuf). [43]

The cult of the Upright Stone, such as the Senegambian stone circles, which were probably built by predecessors of the Serer, [46] [47] [48] [49] were also a place of worship. Laterite megaliths were carved, planted, and directed towards the sky. [50] [51] [52]

One of the most important cosmological stars of the Serer people is called Yoonir. The "Star of Yoonir" is part of the Serer cosmos. It is very important and sacred and just one of many religious symbols in Serer religion and cosmology. It is the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius. With an ancient heritage of farming, "Yoonir" is very important and sacred in Serer religion, [54] [55] because it announces the beginning of flooding and enables Serer farmers to start planting seeds. The Dogon people of Mali call it "Sigui", whilst in Serer it is called "Yoonir" [56] - represented in the form of the "Pangool" (interceders with Roog - the Supreme Deity) and "Man". It is before this event where the Serer High Priests and Priestesses known as Saltigue gather at the Xooy annual divination ceremony where they predict the course of the winter months among other things relevant to the lives of the Serer people. [57] [58] The Pangool (singular : Fangool) are ancestral spirits (also ancient Serer Saints in Serer religion) represented by snakes.

The peak of the Star (top point) represents the Supreme Deity (Roog). The other four points represent the cardinal points of the Universe. The crossing of the lines ("bottom left" and "top right" and "top left and bottom right") pinpoints the axis of the Universe, that all energies pass. The top point is "the point of departure and conclusion, the origin and the end". [45] Among the Serers who cannot read or write the Latin alphabet, it is very common for them to sign official documents with the Star of Yoonir, as the Star also represents "good fortune and destiny". [45]

While most Serers converted to Islam and Christianity (specifically Roman Catholic), their conversion was after colonization. They and the Jola people were the last to convert to these religions. [59] [60] Many still follow the Serer religion especially in the ancient Kingdom of Sine with Senegal and the Gambia being predominantly Muslim countries. [59] [60]

The Serers have also battled many prominent African Islamic jihadists over the centuries. Some of those like Maba Diakhou Bâ is considered a national hero and given a saint like status by Senegambian Muslims. He himself was killed in battle fighting against the Serer King of Sine - Maad a Sinig Kumba Ndoffene Famak Joof on 18 July 1867 at The Battle of Fandane-Thiouthioune commonly known as The Battle of Somb. [61] [62]

At the surprise attacks of Naodorou, Kaymor and Ngaye, where the Serers were defeated, they killed themselves rather than be conquered by the Muslim forces. In these 19th-century Islamic Marabout wars, many of the Serers villagers committed martyrdom, including jumping to their deaths at the Well of Tahompa. [63] In Serer religion, suicide is only permitted if it satisfies the Serer principle of Jom (also spelt "Joom" which literally means "honour" [64] in the Serer language) - a code of beliefs and values that govern Serer lives. [65] [66]


The all-Slavic word zora "dawn, aurora" (from Proto-Slavic *zoŗà), and its variants, comes from the same root as the all-Slavic word zrěti ("to see, observe", from PS *zьrěti), which originally may have meant "shine". The word zara may have originated under the influence of the word žar "heat" (PS *žarь). PS *zoŗà comes from the Proto-Balto-Slavic *źoriˀ (cf. Lithuanian žarà, žarijà), the etymology of the root is unclear. [5]

The Proto-Indo-European reconstructed goddess of the dawn is *H₂éwsōs. Her name was reconstructed using a comparative method on the basis of the names of Indo-European goddesses of the dawn, e.g. Greek Eos, Roman Aurora, or Vedic Ushas similarly, on the basis of the common features of the goddesses of the dawn, the features of the Proto-Indo-European goddess were also reconstructed.

Although the Zorya cult is only attested in folklore, its roots go back to Indo-European antiquity, and the Zorya herself manifests most of *H₂éwsōs characteristics. [6] Zorya shares the following characteristics with most goddesses of the dawn:

  1. She appears in the company of St. George and St. Nicholas (interpreted as divine twins) [7]
  2. Red, gold, yellow, rose colors [3][8]
  3. She lives overseas, on the island of Buyan[9][3]
  4. Opens the door to the Sun [1][3]
  5. She owned a golden boat and a silver oar

Zarubin undertook a comparison between Slavic folklore and the Indo-Aryan Rigveda and Atharvaeda, where images of the Sun and its companions, the Dawns, have been preserved. These images date back to ancient concepts from the initially fetishistic (the Sun in the form of a ring or circle) to the later anthropomorphic. Chludov's Novgorod Psalter of the late 13th century contains a miniature depicting two women. One of them, fiery red, signed as "morning zora", holds a red sun in her right hand in the form of a ring, and in her left hand she holds a torch resting on her shoulder, ending in a box from which emerges a light green stripe passing into dark green. This stripe ends in another woman's right hand, in green, signed as "evening zora", with a bird emerging from her left sleeve. This should be interpreted as the Morning Zorya releasing the Sun on its daily journey, and at sunset the Evening Zorya awaits to meet the Sun. A very similar motif was found in a cave temple from the 2nd or 3rd century AD in Nashik, India. The bas-relief depicts two women: one using a torch to light the circle of the Sun, and the other expecting it at sunset. Some other bas-reliefs depict two goddesses of the dawn, Ushas and Pratyusha, and the Sun, accompanied by Dawns, appears in several hymns. The Sun in the form of a wheel appears in the Indo-Aryan Rigveda, or the Norse Edda, as well as in folklore: during the annual festivals of the Germanic peoples and Slavs, they lit a wheel which, according to medieval authors, was supposed to symbolize the sun. [3]

Similar images to the one from the Psalter and the Nashik appear in various parts of Slavic lands, e.g. On a carved and painted gate of a Slovak peasant estate (village of Očová): on one of the pillars is carved the Morning Zora, with a golden head, above her is a glow, and even higher is the Sun, which rolls along an arched road, and on the other pillar is carved the Evening Zora, above it is a setting sun. There are also darkened suns on this relief, possibly dead suns appearing in Slavic folklore. These motifs are also confirmed by the Russian saying "The sun will not rise without the Morning Zoryushka". Such a motif was also found on the back of a 19th century sled where the Sun, in the form of a circle, is in the palace and two Zoryas stand in the exit, and on a peasant rushnyk from the Tver region where Zoryas on horseback rides up to the Sun, one is red and the other is green. [3]

Baltic mythology Edit

According to scholarship, Lithuanian folklore attests a similar dual role for luminous deities Vakarine and Ausrine: [10] [11] Vakarine, the Evening Star, made the bed for solar goddess Saulė, and Ausrine, the Morning Star, lit the fire for her as she prepared for another day's journey. [12] In other accounts, Ausrine and Vakarine are said to be daughters of the female Sun (Saule) and male Moon (Meness), [13] [14] and they tend their mother's palace and horses. [15]

In Russian tradition, they often appear as two virgin sisters: Zorya Utrennyaya (Morning Zorya, from útro "morning") as the goddess of dawn, and Zorya Vechernyaya (Evening Aurora, from véčer "evening") as the goddess of dusk. Each was to stand on a different side of the golden throne of the Sun. The Morning Zorya opened the gate of the heavenly palace when the Sun set out in the morning, and the Evening Zorya closed the gate when the Sun returned to his abode for the night. [1] [3] The headquarters of Zorya was to be located on Buyan Island. [16]

A myth from a later period speaks of three Zoryas and their special task: [1]

There are in the sky three little sisters, three little Zorya: she of the Evening, she of Midnight, and she of Morning. Their duty is to guard a dog which is tied by an iron chain to the constellation of the Little Bear. When the chain breaks it will be the end of the world.

Zorya also patronized marriages, as manifested by her frequent appearance in wedding songs, and arranged marriages between the gods. In one of the Malo-Russian songs, where the Moon meets Aurora while wandering in the sky, she is directly attributed this function: [17]

O Dawn, Dawn! Wherever hast thou been?
Wherever hast thou been? Where dost thou intend to live?

Where do I intend to live? Why at Pan Ivan's, [b]
At Pan Ivan's in his Court,
In his Court, and in his dwelling,
And in his dwelling are two pleasures:
The first pleasure—to get his son married
And second pleasure—to give his daughter in marriage

In folk incantations and popular medicine Edit

Zara-Zaranitsa (aka "Dawn the Red Maiden") appears interchangeably with Maria (Mother of God) in different versions of the same zagovory plots as the supreme power that a practitioner applies to. [18]

She was also prayed to as Zarya for good harvests and health: [19]

Ho, thou morning zarya, and thou evening zarya! fall upon my rye, that it may grow up tall as a forest, stout as an oak!

Mother zarya [apparently twilight here] of morning and evening and midnight! as ye quietly fade away and disappear, so may both sicknesses and sorrows in me, the servant of God, quietly fade and disappear—those of the morning, and of the evening, and of the midnight!

Professor Bronislava Kerbelytė cited that in Russian tradition, the Zoryas were also invoked to help in childbirth (with the appellation "зорки заряночки") and to treat the baby (calling upon "заря-девица", or "утренняя заря Параскавея" and "вечерняя заря Соломонея"). [20] [c]

Zarya was also invoked as protectress and to dispel nightmares and sleeplessness:

Заря, зарница, васъ три сестрицы, утренняя, полуденная, вечерняя, полуночная, сыми съ раба Божія (имя) тоску, печаль, крикъ, безсонницу, подай ему сонъ со всѣхъ сторонъ, со всѣхъ святыхъ, со всѣхъ небесныхъ. [22]

In another incantation, Zarya-Zarnitsa is invoked along with a "morning Irina" and a "Midday Daria" to dispel a child's sadness and take it away "beyond the blue ocean". [23] [d] [e]

Further attestation Edit

Croatian historian Natko Nodilo noted in his study The Ancient Faith of the Serbs and the Croats that the ancient Slavs saw Zora as a "shining maiden" ("svijetla“ i "vidna“ djevojka), and Russian riddles described her as a maiden that lived in the sky ("Zoru nebesnom djevojkom"). [24]

As for the parentage of the Dawn, she is referred "in a Russian song" as "dear little Dawn" and as the "Sister of the Sun". [25]

In Belarusian folklore she appears as Zaranitsa (Зараніца) or as Zara-zaranitsa (Зара-Зараніца). In one of the passages, Zaranica is met by St. George and St. Nicholas, who, according to comparative mythology, function as divine twins, who in Indo-European mythologies are usually brothers of the goddess of the dawn: "Saint George was walking with Saint Nicholas and met Aurora". [7]

In folklore she also appears in the form of a riddle: [26]

Zara-zaranitsa, a beautiful virgin, was walking in the sky, and dropped her keys. The moon saw them, but said nothing. The sun saw them, and lifted them up.

This is about the dew, which the moon does not react to and which disappears under the influence of the sun. [26] Zara is probably simply the goddess of the dawn, and can be translated literally as "Dawn", and Zaranica is a diminutive and may indicate respect towards her. [7]

In Belarussian tradition, the stars are sometimes referred to as zorki and zory, [27] such as the star Polaris, known as Zorny Kol ('star pole') and polunochna zora ('star of midnight'). [28]

In Polish folklore, there are three sister Zoras (Trzy Zorze): Morning Zorza (Polish: Zorza porankowa or Utrenica), Midday Zora (Zorza południowa or Południca) and Evening Zora (Zorza wieczorowa or Wieczornica), which appear in Polish folk charms and, according to Andrzej Szyjewski, represent a threefold division of the day. [29] They also function as Rozhanitsy: [30]

Zarze, zarzyce, three sisters. The Mother of God went on the sea, gathering golden froth St. John met her: Where are you going, Mother? I am going to cure my little son. [31] Zorzyczki, zorzyczki, there are three of you she of morning, she of midday, she of evening. Take from my child the crying, give him back his sleep. [32] Zorze, zorzeczeńki! You're all my sisters! Get on your crow horse And ride for my companion (lover). So he can't go without me neither sleep nor eat, nor sit down, nor talk. That I may please him in standing, in working, in willing. That I may be thankful and pleasant to God and men, and this companion of mine. [33]

Another folk saying from Poland is thus: Żarze, zarzyczki, jest was trzy, zabierzcie od mojego dziecka płakanie, przywróćcie mu spanie. [34]

In a magical love charm from Poland, the girl asks for the dawn (or morning-star) to go to the girl's beloved and force him to love no other but her: [35]

Witajze zorze Welcome, morning star

The Ukrainian language also has words deriving from "Zorya": зі́рка (dialectal зі́ра "zira" and зі́ри "ziry") zírka, a diminutive meaning 'little star', 'starlet', 'asterisk' зі́рнйця "zirnitsa" (or зі́рнйці "zirnytsi"), a poetic term meaning 'little star', 'aurora, dawn'. [36]

In a saying collected in "Харківщині" (Kharkiv Oblast), it is said that "there are many stars (Зірок) in the sky, but there are only two Zori: the morning one (світова) and the evening one (вечірня)". [37]

In an orphan's lament, the mourner says he will take the "keys of the dawn" ("То я б в зорі ключі взяла"). [38]

In a magical love charm, the girl invokes "three star-sisters" (or the "dawn-sisters"): [39]

Vy zori-zirnytsi, vas na nebi tri sestrytsi: odna nudna, druga pryvitna, a tretia pechal’na You dawn-stars, you three sisters in the sky: one dull, the second welcoming, and the third sorrowful

In a Slovene folksong titled "Zorja prstan pogubila" (Zorja lost her ring), the singer asks for mother ("majko"), brother ("bratca"), sister ("sestro") and darling ("dragog") to look for it. [40]

According to professor Monika Kropej, in Slovene mythopoetic tradition, the sun rises in the morning, accompanied by the morning dawn, named Sončica (from sonce, 'sun'), and sets in the evening joined by an evening dawn named Zarika (from zarja, 'dawn'). [41] These female characters also appear in a Slovenian narrrative folk song about their rivalry. [42] [43] F. S. Copeland also interpreted both characters as mythological Sun and Dawn, as well as mentioned another ballad, titled Ballad of Beautiful Zora. [44] Slovene folklorist Jakob Kelemina (sl), in his book about Slovene myths and folk-tales, stated that a Zora appears as the daughter of the Snake Queen (possibly an incarnation of the night) in the so-called Kresnik Cycle. [45]

According to professor Daiva Vaitkevičienė, the Virgin Mary most likely replaced deity Zaria in East Slavic charms. The Virgin Mary is also addressed as "Zaria" in Russian charms. [46]

In a charm collected in Arkhangelsky and published in 1878 by historian Alexandra Efimenko (ru), the announcer invokes зоря Мария and заря Маремъяния, translated as "Maria-the-Dawn" and "Maremiyaniya-the-Dawn". [47]

In another charm, the "Evening Star Mariya" and "Morning Star Maremiyana" are invoked to take away sleeplessness. [48]

Goddess Zaria (alternatively, a trio of deities named Zori) is also invoked in charms against illness. According to professor Daiva Vaitkevičienė, this "is a very popular motif of the Slavic charms". [49]

The word "Zorya" has become a loanword in Romanian language as its word for "dawn" (zori) and as the name of a piece of music sung by colindatori (zorile). [50] [51] [52] [53]

The Morning Star is also known as dennica, zornica or zarnica. [54]

In Serbo-Croatian languages, the planet Venus is known as Zornjača, when it appears in the morning, and Večernjača when it appears at night. [55]

In a folksong, the Dawn/Morning Star is depicted as the bride of a male Moon. [56]

In some Croatian folk songs, collected and published in 1876 by Rikardo Ferdinand Plohl-Herdvigov, a "zorja" is used along with "Marja" in "Zorja Marja prsten toči" [57] and referred to as "Zorja, zorija" in "Marija sinku načinila košulju" [58]

The Mysterious Mix of Myth and Sky Observations in Serbian Folk Astronomy - History

For centuries, humans have attempted to explain the Sun in terms of their own worldviews. The Sun can be a god, a demon, a mischievous spirit, an omnipotent creator or a ruthless taker of life. Whatever role it plays, most cultures have recognized the significance of the Sun as prime controller of all life on Earth.

As you read these, remember they were not stories created to entertain, nor were they written for children. These myths, legends and accounts represent their culture's worldview, a peoples' attempt to explain, understand, and come to grips with nature's phenomena. To the people who tell them, these reports are as relevant and true, as deeply meaningful and spiritually important, as any scientific explanations.

For an expanded pdf of this website: Solar Folklore

  • Why There is Day and Night (As told by Lynn Moroney)
  • Raven and the Sun
  • Three-legged Rabbit
  • Coyote and Eagle Steal the Sun and Moon
  • Boy and the Sun
  • Sun and Her Daughter
  • Spider and the Sun
  • Little Brother Snares the Sun
  • One Who Walks all Over the Sky
  • Fifth World
  • Tsohanoai, the Navaho Sun God

For more Indigenous American starlore, see Starlore of Native America.

Indigenous Australian / Aborigine

No one knows what the earliest humans thought about the sky, for no records exist. However, the cultures of the Australian Aborigines, which have been passed down via legends, songs, and dances for more than 40,000 years, give us a glimpse of how these earliest known astronomers may have interpreted the Sun and stars.

The Indigenous people of Australia, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, represent the world's oldest and most long-lived cultures, a heritage rich in wisdom and insight. Before European intrusion, indigenous peoples inhabited most areas of the Australian continent. With more than 700 separate languages, distinctive lifestyles, and religious and cultural traditions in different regions, these adaptable and creative peoples had complex social systems with highly developed traditions reflecting their deep connection with the land and environment. Their view of the cosmos is based on their concept of the Dreaming -- a distance past when the Spirit Ancestors created the world. Aboriginal songs, dances, and tales convey how, long ago, the Spirit Ancestors created the natural world and entwined the people into a close interrelationship with nature and the sky. For more information see the Australian Museum's website Indigenous Australia.

  • Indigenous perspectives on the Sun and Moon. This document is part of the South Australian government Department of Education's Aboriginal Education Unit. It contains some Dreaming stories, with the nation and area included, as well as practical activities that can be used in a primary classroom.
  • An Aborigines View of the Sun
  • Story of the Aboriginal Flag and its Sun symbol


Gevalt in Our Stars

In a striking Rosh Hashanah greeting card from the early 1900s, an angelic figure festooned with flowers directs a group of children to look skyward: “Children! You are looking at the New Year star. May your luck shine just as bright and clear.” A shooting star passes through the frame of the window, bidding the viewers “a sweet year.”

The idea of attaching one’s luck and fate to the movements of the cosmos is nothing new early records from around the world show widespread acceptance of the heavenly bodies as authorities on earthly affairs. In Jewish culture, too, this belief was pervasive. Early Talmudic scholars argued over how great the influence of the stars was on daily life and even went so far as to create a complex numerological system with each of the planets corresponding to a different angel. Later, these angels came to stand for the twelve signs of the zodiac.

Although not Jewish by creation, the twelve signs of the zodiac are a prominent decorative feature of synagogues throughout the world. Both the zodiac and the Jewish calendar are governed by the cycles of the moon, so it makes sense that there was an early connection between the two. Since the invocation of the zodiac appeared widespread throughout Jewish history, I was curious if there were any books in Yiddish on the subject of astrology. When I had difficulty finding any with “astrology” in the title, on a whim, I picked up a few books on astronomy. Although today astronomy and astrology could not be more divergent disciplines, each of the Yiddish astronomical texts I read devoted a great deal of space to astrology.

One of the first books I stumbled upon was Phillip Krantz’s 1918 Himl un erd: Astronomye farn folk [Heaven and Earth: Astronomy for the People]. Born Yankev Dombro in Radok, Ukraine, and trained at Petersburg Technical Institute, Krantz changed his name upon emigrating to the United States and made a living publishing science and history books for the lay reader. His book on astronomy, while lengthy, is clear and concise in diction and sprinkled throughout with helpful illustrations.

Sketch 49. — How a large comet traveled around the sun between five in the morning and four in the evening on the 27th of February, 1893.

The "Great Bear," as it is known in myth, with the names of its more visible stars.

Sketch 13. — The 'nebula' (galaxy) "Andromeda" as photographed in the Yerkes Observatory.

Sketch 41. — An image of Haley's Comet from the 1066 Bayeux Tapestry.

Sketch 36. — Three images of Saturn with its rings.

Sketch 38. — Shadows from the rings of Saturn.

Krantz devotes an entire chapter to astrology, complete with three illustrations of Jewish zodiacs. He remains scientific in his tone and content and dismisses the idea that the stars are indicative of fate. Rather, Krantz is more interested in the stars that compose the constellations of the zodiac and the folk’s history behind their names and meaning. Combining history and mythology, on the sign Cancer he writes:

The sign “Cancer” (crab), known in Hebrew as sartan, is called thusly because when the sun reaches its greatest height in the Northern Hemisphere and begins to make its way back down (at the end of June when the days are the longest of the year), it moves backwards, like a crab.

דער צײכען „קאַנסער“ (ראַק) אָדער מזל סרטן, װען די זון דערגרײכט איהר גרעסטע הױכקייט אױף דער נאָרדליכער העלפֿט פֿון דער ערד און הױבט אָן איהר װעג צוריק אַרונטער (דאָס איז ענדע יוני, װען די טעג זײנען די לענגסטע פֿון יאָהר), זאָל שטאַמענ דערפֿון, װאָס אַ ראַק בעװעגט זיך ריקװערטס.

On the sign Libra, Krantz too mentions the significance of the equinox in the sign’s mythohistoriography:

The sign “Libra” (balance), known in Hebrew as maznim, occurs during the part of autumn when day and night become the same length and balance themselves, as if on the balance pan of the year.

דער צײכען „ליבראַ“ (װאָגשאָל) אָדער מזל מאַזנים האָט פֿאָרגעשטעלט די צײט, װען טאָג אונ נאַכט װערען גלייך אין הערבסט און באַלאַנסירען זיך אַזױ אױף דער װאָג־שאָל פֿון יאָהר.

One of the most fascinating elements of Himl un erd is the interplay between Hebrew, Latin, and Yiddish. In each of the excerpts above, the name of the sign is given in Hebrew, while the name of the constellation is phonetically spelled out in Latin. Finally, in order to clarify for the average Yiddish reader, who might not be familiar with such terms, the animal or object that represents the sign (such as the crab, for Cancer) is given in Yiddish.

Ben-Zion Hofman’s 1918 Astronomye takes a different approach. Hofman, a popular writer for Der tog under the pen name Zivion, favored the vernacular names for stars and planets, most of which derive from Latin. Hofman too broaches the question of astrology in his text. In a chapter titled “Astrologie (Shtern-Zeeray)” ["Astrology (Star-Sighting")], Hofman promises to cover the following:

What is astrology? – The development of astrology and the belief in astrology during the Middle Ages. – The rules of astrology. – The belief that the stars have an effect on the luck of people.

װאָס איז אַסטראָלאָגיע? – די ענטװיקלונג פֿון אַסטראָלאָגיע און דאָס גלויבען אין איהר אין מיטעל־אַלטער. – די כללים פֿון אַסטראָלאָגיע. – דער גלױבען, אַס די שטערן האָבען אַ װירקונג אױף דעם מענשליכען מזל.

Hofman’s explanations of astrology are more in step with what is thought of as astrology today each planet in Hofman’s schematic aligns with a particular domain of fate (Mars rules over conflict Venus over love and friendship). As the earth orbits the sun, the planets assume different positions in the night sky, and those born under the influence of a particular set of celestial bodies exhibit qualities attributed to those bodies. Although Hofman himself does not believe in the luck of the stars, he is fair and balanced in his presentation of the history and methodologies of astrology. The section appears along with other early astral theories and thus makes sense in a scientific text on astronomy.

While both Hofman’s and Krantz’s texts are technical in nature, I also was lucky enough to get my hands on a mysterious brown book that takes a more mystical approach. Written in 1909 by Professor (Abraham) Hochman, this palm-sized work features a well-dressed man on the cover, surrounded by skulls, angels, and thick books on topics such as palmistry and astrology. In the expanse of night sky behind him lies a field of stars and planets neatly labeled for the reader.

In Hochman’s text, the art of divining the future in the stars is taken seriously. Although Hochman does not focus explicitly on astrology, the stars and planets appear throughout the text. As a motif, they communicate to the audience that their fate is predestined by the planets that rule the sky at that particular juncture. One diagram even shows which signs rule over various parts of the body, perhaps in an effort to show which bodily endeavors may best behoove the reader.

Near the end of Hochman’s book lies a tool to help readers inquire about their own futures. With a handful of nuts and herbs and several convoluted charts, the reader can learn whether certain future events will have a favorable outcome. Following the same methods laid out more than a hundred years ago, several of my colleagues probed into their futures. The outcomes were mixed.

Curious to try the tool out myself, I asked one of the suggested questions: “Will I have a good legacy?”

“No,” came Hochman’s terse reply from the pages.

So what is the legacy of these astrological texts? Beyond a dedicated Yiddish readership, they could not have found much of an audience. None of these texts is particularly Jewish in content either. However, reading from these books today, it is the very Yiddish that made them once accessible to Jewish audiences that today marks them as specifically Jewish prophecies from the past. Without a working knowledge of Yiddish, these dossiers of divination become (major) arcana.

Watch the video: Sky Observation Tonight: The Moon and other constellations