In this state, we're blessed to live close to areas where there's very little light pollution, so the stars of the night sky are easily visible. Local mystic Renna Shesso (and onetimeWestword
art critic, writing as Nancy Clegg) has been fascinated by the stars since the mid-'60s, when she saw Gerald Hawkins on television explaining his Stonehenge theory -- which points out that the complex aligns with various areas of importance in the sky. "And people scoffed at this," she remembers. "These were primitive howling barbarians, why would they be able to align these relics? But they weren't inside playing on their GameBoys, they were outside gazing at the sky, and they told stories about what they saw. It was important. It was the gigantic calendar."
Shesso will sign her new book, A Magical Tour of the Night Sky, from 1 to 3 p.m. on Sunday, December 18, at the Mercury Cafe, 2199 California Street; keep reading for more on the book.
Westword: What was the inspiration for writing this book?
Renna Shesso: I've got an awful lot of different astrology, mythology, astronomy books on hand myself, but nothing was easy enough for a beginner to use and simply walk outside with a telescope, and I was really interested in the association of what our different ancestors were looking at and why. Why did these things mean so much to them? The emphasis on this one is spiritual. The only ones that I can think of that are remotely similar get into theories about aliens coming down to build the pyramids, and I really don't think the aliens do that. I think most of these huge sites aligned with the stars were built by humans. Just because we can't figure out why or how they did it...most of us can't start a fire from scratch, either.
What can readers expect from the book?
We spend so much of our time inside these days, especially at night. What about getting back to the wonder of the night sky? So starting really simplisticly, I begin by looking to the north, to the Big Dipper and the North Star, and talk about some of the lore of that, how to find them easily, what their symbolism has been, what they've been used for over the years -- like the use by escaping slaves in America -- then move onto the sun, the Zodiac signs, the moon, Mercury, Venus and Saturn -- and I start with Saturn, because that's the least visible to the naked eye -- and then some star groups important but that are not part of the Zodiac. Orion isn't part of the Zodiac, but people recognize Orion. Their stories are important, and they're so well-known and attractive to us that we're curious about them. This is really naked-eye observation. You can recognize which stars are which, and then start playing with how to connect with this in a more spiritual way. Where is the sun positioned when I'm born, does it feel different at any different time of the year? Start getting back some spiritual and grounding roots.
So how would you classify this book?
(Laughs.) I'm really curious how they're going to shelve this book. I guess I would call it shamanic stargazing. It's a playful book, it's the kind of thing that if you were outside at night with a little kid, you could point things out and tell stories. We always blame light pollution and living in the city, bu the fact is, we hardly go outside. Almost all the observation for this was done in my back yard in Aurora. When I'm up in the mountains, it's overwhelming. There's so much of the night sky; it's hard to pick out the distinctive stars. So if you can learn the relation of the brightest ones when everything else is competing with it, then you've got a good start.
What's the feedback been so far?
Really exciting. The feedback so far has been really good. It's written in understandable language, there's plenty of pictures, and people have been saying they want to get their kids out where they can see the Milky Way. And the fact that people want to share any aspect of the magic of the sky with their kids is like a huge vote of confidence for this book. It brought back the wonder, which was the ideal result. I'm happy with how things worked out, this probably could have been four times the size. In terms of what's out there in information, it could have been much bigger. Gotta start somewhere, and this is a manageable size and it's something you could still carry into the field.
So are there plans to expand into another book later?
I don't know. I...maybe. That might be workshop stuff, website stuff, I don't know. Bookwise, I'm probably inclined to move into some other areas. But this isn't going to just go away, obviously. I've been interested in a while and like it, so I keep coming across stuff. And when you put out a book like this, people come out of the woodwork and tell you their stories.
What can people expect from the booksigning on Sunday?
It might be a booksigning indeed, but it won't be the bookstore version. This is more like a book-release party, as far as I'm concerned. It was like a forced march to get it finished, because there was so much there, and to decide what was in and wasn't. I will be talking about the book, signing the book, selling the book, but will also just be hanging out telling stories.
Anything else you'd like to add?
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Go outside and look at the stars!