The Pleiades in Various Cultures – Definition & Detailed Explanation – Astronomical History & Mythology Glossary

I. What are the Pleiades?

The Pleiades, also known as the Seven Sisters, is an open star cluster located in the constellation of Taurus. It is one of the nearest star clusters to Earth and is easily visible to the naked eye. The cluster is made up of hot, young stars that formed together from the same nebula, making them gravitationally bound to each other. The Pleiades cluster is estimated to be around 100 million years old and is moving through space at a rate of 20 kilometers per second.

The name “Pleiades” comes from Greek mythology, where the seven daughters of the titan Atlas and the sea-nymph Pleione were transformed into stars by Zeus to escape the pursuit of Orion. The cluster is named after these seven sisters, who are said to be the daughters of Atlas and Pleione.

II. How are the Pleiades viewed in Greek mythology?

In Greek mythology, the Pleiades were known as the daughters of Atlas and Pleione. The seven sisters were Maia, Electra, Alcyone, Taygete, Asterope, Celaeno, and Merope. According to the myth, the sisters were pursued by the giant hunter Orion, and to protect them, Zeus transformed them into stars and placed them in the sky as the constellation of the Pleiades.

The Pleiades were considered to be a symbol of sisterhood and unity in Greek mythology. They were also associated with fertility and agriculture, as their rising in the sky marked the beginning of the sailing season and the time to sow crops. The Pleiades were often invoked by sailors and farmers for protection and guidance.

III. How are the Pleiades viewed in Indigenous cultures?

In Indigenous cultures around the world, the Pleiades have been viewed as a significant celestial phenomenon. Many Indigenous peoples have their own stories and myths about the Pleiades, often associating them with creation, navigation, and spiritual guidance.

For example, in the Navajo tradition, the Pleiades are known as the “Dilyéhé,” which means “the seven stars.” They are considered to be the home of the ancestral spirits and are used for navigation and timekeeping. The Dilyéhé are also associated with the changing seasons and the cycles of life.

In the Maori culture of New Zealand, the Pleiades are known as “Matariki” and are celebrated as the beginning of the New Year. The rising of Matariki in the sky is a time for feasting, storytelling, and honoring the ancestors. It is also a time for planting crops and preparing for the year ahead.

IV. What significance do the Pleiades hold in Japanese culture?

In Japanese culture, the Pleiades are known as “Subaru” and are considered to be a symbol of unity and harmony. The name “Subaru” comes from the Japanese word for cluster or grouping, reflecting the seven stars of the Pleiades.

The Subaru logo, which is used by the car manufacturer of the same name, is based on the Pleiades cluster. The six stars in the logo represent the six companies that merged to form Subaru, while the seventh star represents the unity of the companies.

In Japanese folklore, the Pleiades are also associated with the Tanabata festival, which celebrates the meeting of the star-crossed lovers Orihime and Hikoboshi. According to the myth, the two lovers are only allowed to meet once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, when the Pleiades are visible in the sky.

V. How are the Pleiades observed in other cultures around the world?

The Pleiades have been observed and celebrated in many cultures around the world. In ancient Egypt, the Pleiades were known as the “Seven Hathors” and were associated with the goddess Hathor, who was the goddess of love, music, and beauty.

In the Hindu tradition, the Pleiades are known as the “Krittika” and are associated with the six mothers of the war god Kartikeya. The Krittika are considered to be the protectors of children and are often invoked for blessings and protection.

In the Inuit culture of North America, the Pleiades are known as the “Qilak” and are considered to be a group of young women who are chased by a bear. The Qilak are seen as a warning of the dangers of the wilderness and are used as a guide for hunting and navigation.

VI. What modern astronomical significance do the Pleiades hold?

In modern astronomy, the Pleiades cluster is studied for its properties and characteristics. The stars in the cluster are used as a standard for measuring the distance to other celestial objects, as they have a known distance from Earth.

The Pleiades are also used as a testbed for studying stellar evolution and formation. By observing the young, hot stars in the cluster, astronomers can learn more about how stars are born and evolve over time.

The Pleiades cluster is also a popular target for amateur astronomers and stargazers. The bright, blue stars of the Pleiades are easily visible in the night sky and are a popular subject for astrophotography.

Overall, the Pleiades hold significance in various cultures around the world, from ancient mythology to modern astronomy. The cluster continues to inspire wonder and curiosity in people of all backgrounds, connecting us to the vastness of the universe and the mysteries of the cosmos.