A Magical Tour of the Night Sky: Use the Planets and Stars for Personal and Sacred Discovery, by Renna Shesso
Weiser, 9781578634958, 261 pp., 2011
A Magical Tour of the Night Sky is a pretty unique book. Despite the title, sub-title , and even some of the back cover this is not a book about astrology; it is a book about the sky, and our selves. While astrology does come up, there is some discussion of signs and planets and what they mean in astrology but it isn’t about astrology really, there are no mentions of personality traits, predictions, or matching Sun signs with one another. Instead this book focuses on the mythology, and the astronomy, the latter making it an especially interesting book.
Each chapter – starting with the Pole Star, to the Zodiac, then out through the planets – has Shesso weaving together mythology and history from various cultures, most notably Greco-Roman, Norse, Egyptian, and Babylonian. The reader is given a sense of the spiritual importance placed on the planets, as well as seeing how these views permeated the cultures and show up in everything from basket weaving to architecture. Though occasionally the links feel like a bit of a stretch, and some are just incorrect (the etymology of Yule1 and the history of term Summerland2 for instance) overall they’re sound and intriguing. She also then explains some of the astronomy behind the planets, and that’s the section that is probably most useful to a magickal practitioner. To generalize most Pagans (like most people in general in modern Western culture) can’t look at the Moon and say if it is waxing or waning, but Shesso explains simple ways to tell just that. She explains how the orbits and motions of Mercury and Venus function, the appearance of the morning/evening star, and interesting mathematical and astronomical facts about each, such as how Venus’ solar conjunctions slowly trace a pentagram in the sky. The ability to locate and understand the movements of the planets is a great step in being able to use them more efficiently.
The book is more than just astronomy though, as mentioned there is an exploration of the spiritual and cultural significance of the planets, and each section has a set of exercises to help you learn the astronomy behind them, and connect to the mythic forces they represent. These exercises may draw on connected tarot cards, or specific planetary spreads, they may ask you to make and record a sundial, or create a will, or hold celebrations for the planets and their movements. They’re personal exercises to connect you to less of an abstract sense of the planet and one more grounded in your life.
As someone who loves information it is also great to see that much of the data in the book is cited, so I can always check the source to confirm or to learn more, and the bibliography contains everything from classics like Al-Biruni’s works to modern and academic sources on niche interests touched on in the text. This book really was enjoyable, it is refreshing to see an astronomical take on the planets that still touches on their spiritual importance, and more importantly a book that talks about the astronomy of the planets and gets it right. I’ll refrain from mentioning the title of a Pagan book that had a ritual requiring an impossible astronomical event involving Venus, but it goes to show that many people are out of touch with the natural reality of these things, and Shesso brings us back to it. The book is very well written, the language shifts from mythic to scientific without losing the reader, and barring a few small spots the language seems to be accessible with those unfamiliar with the specific topics, so those knowing nothing of astronomy will quickly pick up the language.
It is far too easy to be disconnected from the natural world, too many people who live in cities know nothing about the stars, planets, and their movement. This book teaches the reader everything they would need to know in order to go outside, look up at the sky, and identify moon phases, locate planets and constellations, and tap back into that stellar connection.Footnotes: