Michelle Snyder: The Symbologist
Cygnus and Mother Goose
Mythologies, nursery rhymes, legends, and Faerie tales are collections of symbolized events and cultural records preserved by oral tradition, and shared from generation to generation, mostly from mother to child. These stories have become cherished childhood literature, and many have astronomical origins.
Today, when we look up in the sky, we find the Big Dipper, which points us to Polaris, the North Star. Thousands of years ago the star Deneb, in the constellation of Cygnus the Swan, signified north. Images of birds on top of poles, such as the one in Lascaux Cave, represent the earth’s axis mundi pointing north toward Cygnus. Mother Goose, the Swan Princess, and other Swan-Mother symbols come from the distant time of Cygnus the Swan.
Mother Goose is associated with children’s rhymes, which are classic examples of oral tradition; Hey (or Hi) Diddle Diddle The Cat and The Fiddle carries knowledge of seasonal astronomy, made easy to remember with rhyme and familiar, humorous characters. According to Duncan Enzmann, this rhyme dates back to the bountiful Atlantic years, from c. 5400 BC. It speaks of constellations during harvest season: Canis Minor is played by the cat and fiddle - the cat represents rodent control in the fields, the fiddle is the plow. The dish symbolizes the constellation Eridanus, the spoon being Orion’s Arm. The cow represents Venus’ horns; the Moon is the growing season. The little dog as Sirius, in Canis Major, “laughs” bountiful: the dish and spoon are so full it is more than we can eat.
Jack and Jill is still recited by young children. Did you ever wonder why they went up the hill? Water flows downhill. C. 6500 BC it was discovered that the dew which collected on the top of the Briton’s chalk hills was clean and pure; the chalk filtered the water – just as our charcoal and sand filters do today. Of course, they did not take the water from the very top; that is where the birds perched and left bird-droppings. The little rivulets seeping from the side of the hill provided the best water, cleaned by the chalk hill.
Humpty Dumpty is a more recent poem which carries a story of historic events, most likely of a cannon bequeathed to a king during the English Civil War (1642-49). The King’s Men (the army) placed the great, round jade cannon in a church tower for greater range. The enemy destroyed the tower, and the cannon careened to the ground, breaking beyond repair.
Deep in the mists of time we find the origin of Rock-a-bye Baby. This ancient poem was first printed in Mother Goose’s Melody in 1765. Duncan-Enzmann has compelling evidence to suggest that its roots are in the Magdalenian culture, ca 10,000 BC. While tending herds of pigs, parents would hang their babies in cradles from the branches of trees, keeping the precious babies safe from predators while they were busy. The trees later become Yggdrasil (the Tree of Life), the link between Above and Below; branches in Heaven, roots firmly in the Earth, and the trunk, the flow of nourishment between. The babies, suspended between roots and branches, are blessed.
Nursery Rhymes are passed on through generations, as mothers rock their babies to sleep. And like fables, legends, mythologies, and faerie tales, they are important purveyors of knowledge, preserved over millennia as children’s poems.
Article © 2011 Michelle Snyder, author of Symbology: Decoding Classic Images, and eBooks World of Symbols, and World of Symbols: Secrets of the Mermaids. To find these books, and her symbolism blog, visit www.whiteknightstudio.com.