Venus and the Horned Moon

Horned Moon & Venus.jpg

“ . . . while close above the Eastern bar the horned Moon, with one bright Star almost between the tips.” (from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Samuel Taylor Coleridge).

On Sunday night, July 16, 2018, we observed a rare celestial phenomenon, technically called an occultation of Venus by the Moon with Earthshine, but it seemed to me that Venus was not yet hidden, so it was closer to the folkloric description of “Venus within the horns of the Moon.” I recall reading somewhere many years ago that in the annals of mystical folklore this occurrence was considered an unfortunate omen. Interestingly, we had just attended a performance of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliette by my daughter-in-law’s theater group, and the term “star-crossed lovers” was on my mind; during the play one of the actors fell and broke her knee, certainly an inauspicious event that bodes ill for future performances.

In its cold-blooded way, astronomy would consider this merely an eclipse, in which the bodies are very close in both celestial longitude and latitude (or perhaps equatorial hour-angle and declination would be more precise). I’ve never seen it mentioned in astrological literature, so the provenance of its dire import would seem to lie with the Romantic poets and the shamans. It is certainly striking when it appears in the evening sky, with atmospheric humidity and dust turning the slightly swollen lunar crescent a dull golden-orange color. (The above is not a photo of the actual event since I didn’t have a camera handy, but it is almost identical to the one we observed.) I’m going to have to search more diligently for the remembered reference, but an academic analysis of Coleridge’s poem and its “star-dogged Moon” would seem to be a good place to start. If I find it, I’ll update this post.

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