Guests from all over the world visit Londolozi for various reasons. Some visit for the luxurious suites and delicious food, all enjoyed whilst admiring magnificent views. Some visit in the hope of seeing the big 5, others might be keen birders or botanists, but most of the time people are excited to get away from the big cities, reset with some fresh air and reconnect with nature.
One of the benefits of being away from big cities is escaping the light pollution and hence having a much clearer view of the night sky. I have always been interested in astronomy and love marvelling at the various beliefs pertaining to the celestial objects we see that cultures from all over the world hold.
May is a unique month in the celestial calendar as it is the only month in which the constellations of Orion and Scorpius can be seen in the same night sky. Orion is the most prominent summer constellation in the Southern Hemisphere and despite it not being a sign of the Zodiac, there are various beliefs that come with it. One of the more commonly known stories that include Orion originates from Greek mythology and it explains why we only see Orion and Scorpius overlapping in the same night sky for a brief period of the year.
According to Greek mythology, Orion was the greatest hunter and a man of gigantic proportions. He boasted that no beast on Earth was a match for him (it must be noted that there are subtle variations in the story). Orion wasn’t exactly humble about this and for that reason, Gaia, the goddess of the Earth, sent a giant scorpion to teach him a lesson in humility.
One of the greatest battles witnessed by man ensued, where Orion came off second best. In order to save him, Ophiuchus who was the founder of medicine gave him an antidote to save him from the deadly sting. All of this caught the attention of the ruler of all Olympian gods and god of the sky, Zeus. He had the final say and decided that in order to keep the peace, he would separate the two in the night sky, placing them at opposite ends of the celestial sphere. This is why we see Scorpio forever chasing Orion, but never quite catching him.
Many other beliefs exist, and from different cultures too. Many believe that because the Egyptians saw Orion as Osirism (the god of the afterlife) they dedicated the building of the pyramids to him. Looking at Orion, you are able to clearly see three bright stars that form his belt and the great pyramids of Giza represent these three stars. The two larger pyramids replicate Alnilam and Alnitak (the two brighter stars), and the third and slightly offset pyramid represents the third star, Mintaka. Shafts in the royal chambers within the pyramids line up perfectly with Orion and Sirius, a prominent star in Canis Major (the larger of Orion’s two hunting dogs). Many astronomers believe that this can’t merely be a coincidence and that because Osiris is the god of the afterlife, and Sirius his sister, these chambers allow for the spirits to be granted access into the world of the afterlife, the pyramids were built in this manner for a reason.
As beautiful as the stars are to admire, I like to also think about the meaning of these celestial objects to people around the world. I have merely touched on three beliefs about one constellation, but there are beautiful stories from cultures all over the world about these constellations many light-years away. We live our lives here on earth and then move on for younger generations to follow, but the stars have remained for millennia and our ancestors had been observing them and using them for thousands of years. So next time you come on Safari to Londolozi, ask your ranger about the story of Orion and Scorpio, or perhaps why the stars forming the constellation of Pleiades are referred to as isiLimela (the digging stars in the Xhosa culture) or maybe just tilt your head back and admire the exquisite canvas lined across the night sky.