Although I live in an area where the night sky is not (yet) polluted with light, I have not learned the constellations. I know the basics, such as Orion’s belt and the dippers, Polaris and the subtle Milky Way. As much as I enjoy gazing at the night sky, I guess I just don’t see the bears, scorpions, and goddesses that the ancient Greeks saw.

Of course, this is largely cultural. First, if I lived south of the equator I would see different stars and constellations, but to live in ancient India, China, Europe or North America, one would have “seen” different constellations, too. Perhaps one would have seen heroes from the Ramayana or the Norse sagas, or mountain cranes, trickster foxes, or river salmon.

Inheriting ancient Greek versions of the stars is no different than how we have come to name the days of the week, the months of the year, or the years themselves as being before or after some great historical event. Each culture has a unique experience. We are inevitably surrounded by culture, by very specific cultures at that, or, perhaps, by their remnants, which many are not even aware of and assume to be normal for the world.

If we can but suspend the many parts of culture in our minds, even for a while, then our vision is inevitably clearer. We can appreciate the whole so much the better, like gazing at the beautiful night sky and seeing the stars for the first time.