The cathedral of Cologne was built during the late 4th or early 5th century on the site of a tomb of a group of virgin martyrs. This story developed into a legend about Ursula, a British princess, who in order to avoid an unwanted marriage to a pagan prince, went on a pilgrimage to Rome with some companions. They were murdered by the Huns on their way home. The number of her companions changes from the early number of ten to eleven thousand. Ursula is the patron of girls’ schools.
Helen Farias says Ursula was originally the German bear goddess, Orsel, and wonders if her companions are the stars in the sky surrounding the constellation of the Bear. Ursa Major, the great She-Bear known to us as the Plough or Dipper. The monthly position of the Bear Goddess’s tail at nightfall was used to announce the arrival of the seasons. The Great Bear was known to the Greeks as Artemis and in the Far East as Ma Tsu Po, Queen of Heaven.
On Norway, on this day, no work was to be done that involved using the wheel, such as spinning, milling, etc., suggesting a fascinating connection with the goddess of Fate (see October 19).
Farias, Helen, “The TBP Lunar-Solar Festival Calendar,” The Beltane Papers, Issue 3, Beltane 1993.
The bear is a powerful symbol. Archaeologists have claimed that the bear is the oldest deity, based on the niches found in caves across Europe which hold the bones and skulls of bears, arranged with evident care. The word “bear” in English is related to maternity, as in “to bear” children. Bear mothers are known for their devotion. Buffie Johnson’s book contains a reproduction of a bear sculpture from 5th century BCE Yugoslavia showing a bear cradling her cub like a Madonna.
Throughout the northern lands, bears are treated with great reverence. Some Scandinavian families claim bears as ancestors. The word mangi means bear in some Siberian dialects but “spirit of ancestors” in others. Lapp shamans transform themselves into bears when they drum. The word for a Siberian woman-shaman is the same as the word for bear.
In his fascinating book, Dawn Behind the Dawn, Geoffrey Ashe explores the association of the Greek Goddess, Artemis, with bears. In one myth, she transforms, Callisto, one of her maidens who has angered her, into a bear and then assigns her to the heavens as the constellation Ursa Major. At the temple of Artemis in Brauronia, during a festival held every five years, two young girls aged five and ten wore yellow bearskin robes and performed the bear dance. Ashe postulates that Indo-European tribes brought from the Northern countries the image of a Bear Goddess, associated with the Big Dipper, who became Artemis in Greece.
Ashe, Geoffrey, Dawn Behind the Dawn, Holt 1992
Johnson, Buffie, Lady of the Beasts, Harper San Francisco 1988
Orionids Meteor Showers
The Orionids meteor shower, named after the constellation Orion because the radiant (point from which the meteors seem to emanate) is located just above Orion’s left shoulder, usually peaks on October 21st. Tony Phillips suggests getting up before dawn and looking at any dark part of the sky about 90 degrees away from Orion.
I’ve always wondered if these shooting stars were the original inspiration for the legend of Ursula’s thousand maidens but perhaps not. Gary Kronk, who also tracks meteors on the web, says the Orionids were first identified in 1839.
Kronk, Gary, “The Orionids,” http://comets.amsmeteors.org/meteors/showers/orionids.html
Phillips, Tony, “Halley’s Comet Returns in Bits and Pieces,” Science@NASA website
Courtesy of Granny Moon’s Morning Feast