Constellations, legends, and three men in a canoe.

If you live in the western hemisphere, in particular North America, the constellation Orion is depicted as a mighty warrior.

He wears a belt. He holds a sword. He stands heroically.

In Australia though, looking up from the southern hemisphere, Orion’s arrangement in the sky flips upside down. His legend takes on a different meaning.

Heather Couper and Nigel Henbest explain further in their book – The Story of Astronomy: How the universe revealed it’s secrets.

The Constellation of Orion – seen in the West as a mighty hunter – also has a different interpretation in Australia. That’s partly because the stars are seen ‘upside down’ from the southern hemisphere. Contemporary Australians often pick out the central three stars of Orion’s ‘Belt’ and ‘Sword’ as a rather nicely defined Saucepan!

‘The Yolngu see the three stars of Orion’s Belt as three men sitting in a canoe,’ says Ray Norris, returning to the more ancient traditions, ‘with Betelgeuse and Rigel as the front and back of the canoe.’ Orion’s Sword – comprising fainter stars and the glowing patch of the Orion Nebula – is a fish caught on a fishing line. Norris enthuses: ‘Once you’ve been told this, and you’ve seen it, its actually really dramatic.’

Three men sitting in a canoe. A saucepan. A fish dangling from it’s line.

Switching hemispheres will switch your perspective.

I’ll never look at Orion the same way again.

New life goal: gaze at Orion from the southern hemisphere.

Lost on the shelf. The power of an unread book.

The Story of Astronomy has lingered in my library, unopened, for years.

Not a crease across the spine. Not a dog ear between the pages.

I pulled it down from the shelf, hoping it would inspire a poem.

My hope was mislead. But I did learn the sky has a remarkable influence on the Muslim faith:

Allah had put these signs in the sky for a purpose. The stars helped Muslims to work out the direction to Mecca; while the Sun indicated the five times of day when they must pray. The first appearance of the crescent Moon marked the beginning of a new Islamic month. And – by investigating the heavens – Muslim scholars would literally get closer to knowing the mind of God.

Faith and science speaking with each other.


Keep those unread books close. Someday they’ll reveal a new truth.