Star Lore
in European Mythology

We have extensively researched Greek, Germanic and Viking lore.
In addition, we have found a lot of other myth all across Europe.


Celtic Mythology

Richard H Allen informs us that "The Anglo-Saxons called the constellation se Waeter-gyt, the Water-pourer; while not long after them John of Trevisa, the English translator, in 1398 thus quaintly recalled the classical form:

The Sygne Aquarius is the butlere of the goddes and yevyth them a water-potte."

Source: Richard H Allen: Star Names - Their Lore and Meaning


North Caucasus

The Nakh peoples called the constellation Capricornus Neģara Bjovnaš, meaning "Roofing Towers."

Source: Wikipedia


Hungarian Mythology

The Hungarian word for "twins" is Ikrek. The word is used for the constellation Gemini, but the Hungarians have their own twins tied to the legend.

According to Gesta Hunnorum et Hungarorum (Deeds of the Huns and Hungarians), a medieval chronicle written around 1282–1285, Hunor and Magor were the ancestors of the Huns and the Magyars.

Hunor and Magyar
The twins were praised for using their weapons to fight not against but for each other with the stronger brother rising the weaker one above himself.

Sources: Wikipedia,

Grimms' Fairy Tales

The German fairy tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs reaches its dramatic high point when Snow White chokes on a poisoned apple and is laid to rest in a glass coffin.

German folklore puts interprets the Pleiades as the Seven Dwarfs and puts Snow White's Coffin in the night sky as a rectangle within the constellation Gemini, consisting of α (Castor),
β (Pollux), γ and μ Geminorum.


Snow White's Coffin; Source:


Celtic Mythology

The Celts called Lyra Talyn Arthur, or King Athur's Harp.

Later, it became known as King David's Harp and as such, it became the Coat of arms of Ireland.


Milky Way

Finnish and Baltic Mythology: The Pathway of the Birds

Migratory Birds use the Milky Way as a guide to travel south. Long ago, the Finns observed that phenomenon. In Finnish mythology, the birds were traveling along the Milky Way to Lintukoto the home of birds - a warm region at the edges of Earth , where the birds lived during the winter.

Elia Mervi tells a Finnish legend, in which the birds were guided by a white bird with the head of a maiden who chases them to find their way. She was the goddess Lindu, the queen of the birds and daughter of the god of the sky, Uko.

After rejecting the suits of the sun and the moon for being too predictable in their movements and the Pole Star for being fixed, she fell in love with the light of the North for her beauty. They compromised, but the unpredictable and wild Northern Light soon left. Lindu's tears fell in her veil, becoming the milky way while her father took her to the sky where she could reign by his side and thus guide the migration of the birds, following the star path of Lindu's veil.

Lindu's astral veil
© Katherine Makoyana

the Milky Way is called Linnunrata in Finnish, Linnutee in Estonian, Paukščių Takas in Lithuanian and :Putnu Ceļš in Latvian, all meaning Pathway of the Birds.

Sources: Elia Mervi, Wikipedia, Sauer, Emlen, 1971: Celestial Rotation and Stellar Orientation in Migratory Warblers,
Mouritsen, Larsen, 2001: Migrating songbirds use stellar cues for a time-independent compass

Hungarian Mythology

In Hungarian Mythology, the Milky Way is called Hadak Útja - The Road of the Warriors. The stars are interpreted as sparks from the horseshoes of the horses of Prince Csaba an his warriors.

In Hungarian legends, Csaba, the mythical son of Attila the Hun is the ancestor of the Hungarians. Wikipedia tells us, that after Csaba's death, the Huns had no one to take his place. Seizing their chance, the enemies of the Huns launched an assault on the Hun kingdom.

Prince Csaba and his warriors on the Milky Way
by Bertalan Székely; Source:

As they met on the field of battle, the enemy generals mocked the Huns, saying "and who will save you now that Csaba is gone?" But no sooner had those words been spoken, a bright pathway consisting of stars appeared in the night sky and Csaba rode down at the head of an army from the heavens, routed the invaders and saved the Huns once again.

Source: Wikipedia

Irish Mythology

In Irish Mythology, there are several different names and several different legends associated with the Milky Way.

The most common name is Bealach na Bó Finne — Way of the White Cow. It is also called Mór-Chuing Argait — the Great Silver Yoke, which refers to the sacred River Boyne and Earball na Lárach Báine - the White Mare's Tail or Smir Find Fedlimthi - the White Marrow of Fedlimid.

Fedlimid mac Daill was the bard of King Conchobar mac Nessa in the Ulster Cycle of Irish Mythology. His daughter Deirdre and her lover Naoise fled from Conchobar to Scotland.

Eventually Conchobar had Naoise and his brothers killed. When they were to be buried, Deirdre threw herself into their grave. Angered, Conchobar exhumed the bodies and buried them separately, but a tree grew from each grave and the branches entwined. Again, Conchobar had them dug up and buried on opposite sides of a lake; but then, a great cluster of stars appeared across the sky, connecting the two graves.

The band of stars was called Sgríob Chlann Uisnich - The Track of the children of Uisneach, after Naoise and his brothers Ardan and Ainnle.

Source: Wikipedia

Deirdre's lament
Painting by J. H. F. Bacon
Charles Squire: Celtic Myths & Legends, Poetry & Romance

Welsh Mythology

In Wales, the Milky Way is called Caer Wydion, Wydion's Castle.

Gwydion is a magician, hero and trickster who appears in several tales
of Welsh Mythology.

Source: Wikipedia



In Armenia, the Milky Way is called Հարդագողի ճանապարհ (pronounced hardagoghi chanaparh), the "Way of a Man who had stolen the Straw".

In Armenian Mythology, during a very cold winter, Vahagn, the Armenian god of fire and thunder stole straw from the Assyrian king Barsham and brought it to Armenia to aid his people. When Vahagn fled across the heavens, some of the straw was spilled along the way.

The Straw-Thief myth spread from Armenia to Mongolia in the east and North Africa in the southwest. The Milky Way is called the route of scattered straw in Chechen, Godfather's straw in Croatian, Straw Thief in Kurdish, Straw-drawing in Persian, the Way of Straw in Sardinian, Road of Thieves in Syriac and Road of Straw in Turkish.

Sources: Wikipedia, Armenian Astronomical Society

Statue of Vahagn in Yerevan
Source: Wikipedia

X Moon and Sun
Grimms' Fairy Tales

Sun and Moon have been part of mythology for as long as humans have observed the sky and in several German fairy tales, they are used to illustrate a story. As a general rule, the Sun (almost) always represents the good characters and the Moon is always the evil villain.

Little Red Riding Hood

German astronomer and writer Ralf Koneckis suggests that the origin of the wolf swallowing Little Red Riding Hood was and eclipse in which the Moon swallows the Sun and the red color of the partially obscured sun is the origin of the red hood.

Sources: Ralf Koneckis: Mythen und Märchen - Was uns die Sterne darüber verraten, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Wolf and Sun,

The Seven Ravens

In the tale of the Seven Ravens, seven brothers are cursed and turned into ravens. Their younger sister travels the world in search of her brothers.

First she attempts to get help first from the sun. But the Sun is too hot and eats little children. Then, she visits the Moon, which craves human flesh too.

She then meets the morning star and that star, together with othr stars helps her to find her brothers and have them return to their human form.

Visiting the Sun
by Oskar Herrfurth
Visiting the Moon
by Oskar Herrfurth

The encounter with the "Morning Star" suggests, that helped the girl were actually the five then known planets.

An early 20th century illustration by Hermann Vogel shows the girl with five "stars."

Sources: Verlag von Braun & Schneider: Kinder- und Hausmärchen,, Wikipedia

The Hare and_the Hedgehog

In the Low Saxon fable of The Hare and_the Hedgehog, the hare mocks the hedgehog for his stumpy legs. Angered, the Hedgehog challenges the hare to a race.

The hedgehog, knowing that he cannot outrun the hare, places his wife, who looks just like him at thwe finish line. When the race in the field begins, the hedgehog only runs a few steps and then hides. When the hare, certain of victory, storms to the finish line, the hedgehog's wife rises and calls out to him: "I'm already here!" (Ick bün all hier!).

Ralf Koneckis sees an allegory to the pathes of sun and moon across the sky. The moon completes a full circle twelve times faster than the sSun and yet, every time, it arrives at the finish line, the Sun is "already there."

Sources: Ralf Koneckis: Mythen und Märchen - Was uns die Sterne darüber verraten, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

The Race between the Hare and the Hedgehog
1855 cover by Gustav Süs



From Wikipedia: In old Hungarian tradition, Orion is known as (magic) Archer (Íjász), or Reaper (Kaszás). In recently rediscovered myths, he is called Nimrod (Hungarian "Nimród"), the greatest hunter, father of the twins Hunor and Magor.

In other Hungarian traditions, Orion's Belt is known as "Judge's stick" (Bírópálca).

Source: Wikipedia

Hungarian Archer
Source: Pintower

Grimms' Fairy Tales

In Sweden and Germany, Orion's Belt was known as Friggerock (Swedish) or Friggas Rocken (German), meaning Frigg's or Freyja's distaff.

Freya is the goddess of love, beauty and fertility in Norse mythology; Frigg is the goddess of wisdom and the wife of Odin in Germanic mythology. Weather both are actually the same is still debated among scholars, but both are credited with teaching the people spinning.

Later, in German folklore the image of the distaff became part of the fairy tale of Little Briar Rose (Dornröschen), today best known as Sleeping Beauty from the 1959 Disney movie.

In the original version, the princess falls asleep after she pricks her finger on a piece of flax from the distaff - still represented by Orion's Belt; later the injury was caused by a spindle.

The tale has its origins in the story of Sleeping Brynhild in the German Völsunga saga (10th century) and the English tale of Perceforest (14th century).

It was first recorded by Giambattista Basile in 1528 and by Charles Perrault in 1697.

Today's most popular version was recorded by the Brothers Grimm in 1812.

Little Briar Rose was associated with the Sun and Orion's Belt was seen as the cursed spindle as the heliacal rising of the star formation signaled the beginning of winter - the time when the Sun "fell asleep."

Sources: Arthur Drews: DerSternenhimmel,
Schmidt, Floss: Germanisches Sagen und Märchenbuch,
Ralf Koneckis: Mythen und Märchen - Was uns die Sterne darüber verraten

Frigg and handmaiden with a distaff
Ludwig Pietsch, 1885
Source: Wikipedia

Little Briar Rose grabs the spindle
by Alexander Zick
Source: Wikipedia


In Finish folklore, Orion is known as Väinämöinen

Väinämöinen is an old wise man with a potent, magical voice. He is the main character of Finland's national epic Kalevala.

Consequently, Orion's Belt is called Väinämöisen vyö (Väinämöinen's Belt), while the stars below it are known as Kalevanmiekka (Kaleva's sword).

In other Finish myths, the Belt and the stars below it are called Väinämöisen viikate (Väinämöinen's scythe)

Source: Wikipedia

Väinämöinen in a painting by
Akseli Gallen-Kallela
Source: Wikipedia

Slavic Mythology

In ancient Macedonia, Betelgeuze was known as Orach, the plowman. The belt-stars were seen as the plow's handle.

The rising of Betelgeuse at around 3 a.m. in late summer and autumn signified the time for village men to go to the fields and plow.

The interpretation of Orion as an oxen and a plow was common in other eastern European cultures, such as Bulgarians, Serbians, Albanians, Romanians and Ukrainians, too.

Sources: Wikipedia and Yuri Berezkin: European Sky in the past


Grimms' Fairy Tales

Several authors see a connection between the constellation Pisces and the North German fairy tale of a fisherman named Antenteh. The tale was part of North German oral folklore for centuries until it was recorded twice in 1812; first by Philipp Otto Runge and then by the Brothers Grimm, who published it under the title The Fisherman and His Wife.

The connection between the tale and the constellation seems a little far fetched, but several sources report it.

"The Fisherman and His Wife" by Alexander Zick
Source: Wikipedia tells the story:

Antenteh, who was very poor and his wife lived in a small cabin by the sea. The only possessions they had were the cabin and a tub that they filled with feathers to at least have somewhere to rest and sleep.
One day, Antenteh caught a fish that struggled to get free as he pulled it up in his fishing nets. To Antenteh's amazement, the fish spoke to him, telling Antenteh that he is actually an enchanted prince. The fish told Antenteh that if he released him, he could have anything that he wanted. In the story I read back in school, the fish gives Antenteh three wishes.

Antenteh whose needs are simple and feeling honored at having rescued such an important person refused to accept anything from the enchanted prince. On getting home, Antenteh found that wasn’t to be the case. His wife became very angry for not taking advantage of the opportunity and Antenteh found himself returning to the seashore and called for the fish.

Luckily for Antenteh, the fish came and an embarrassed Antenteh told the fish how the wife wanted a house and furniture for it. The fish told him not to worry and that he would take care of everything. Returning home, Antenteh found that his cabin was now a fine house. Now if Antenteh's wife hadn’t been so greedy, everything probably would have been fine.

"The Fisherman and His Wife" by Alexander Zick

As time progressed, Antenteh's wife demanded more. She wanted to be a queen and to have a palace and this wish was granted. Still not satisfied, she demanded to become a goddess.

That was the straw that broke the camel’s back in this case and the fish now angry at the increasing demands, made everything that Antenteh had been given and wished for vanish and he and his wife were back to having their old cabin and tub full of feathers to sleep in.

Sources: Wikipedia,,
"The Fisherman and His Wife"


Grimms' Fairy Tales

The number Seven, being a magic number in German folklore plays a prominent role in German fairy tales.

Some of them, like The Seven Ravens are associated with the "Seven Planets" (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Sun and Moon).

At least two popular tales have a connection to the seven brightest stars of the Pleiades and to the Moon, passing through the formation.

Moon passing the Pleiades;

The Wolf and the Seven Young Goats

In several German fairy tales, evil characters are associated with the Moon. In The Wolf and the Seven Young Goats, the villain is the wolf who waits until mother goat left the house and then tricks the young goats to open the door after which he devours all but one of them.

Seen from Earth, the diameter of the Pleiades is slightly wider than that of the full moon, thus, at any path across the Pleiades, the Moon can cover only a maximum of six of the seven brightest stars. The seventh star symbolizes the youngest goat which got away by finding a perfect hiding spot (inside a grandfather clock).

The tale has been part of oral German folklore for centuries. Its roots can be traced back to a Middle-Eastern tale of the first century AD.

The most popular form of the story was recorded by the Brothers Grimm in 1812.

Source: Carl-Fuhlrott-Gymnasium

The Wolf and the Seven
Young Goats by Oskar Herrfurth
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

In the fairy tale of Snow White, an evil Queen envies her stepdaughter's beauties and wants to kill her. Snow White hides in the forest in the house of the Seven Dwarfs. In disguise, her stepmother visits here three times and tries to kill her. All three attempts eventually fail and in the end, Snow White marries a charming price.

Shortly after the Spring Equinox, the Pleiades disappears from the night sky and throughout the Summer, Snow White (the Sun) is save as the Seven Dwarfs (the Pleiades) are close to the Sun.

In Fall, the Pleiades re-appear in the night sky. After the Winter Solstice, the the Moon crosses the Pleiades three times, symbolizing the three visits of the Evil Queen to the house of the Seven Dwarfs.

After the third visit, Snow White chokes on a poisoned apple and is laid to rest in a glass coffin. German folklore puts Snow White's Coffin in the night sky as a rectangle within the constellation Gemini, consisting of α (Castor), β (Pollux), γ and μ Geminorum.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
by Carl Offterdinger; Wikipedia

Some scholars trace the origin of the Snow White tale to the fate of two German pricesses in the 16th and 18th century, respectively. Others go back way further and see similarities to the Greek legend of Chione, whose beauty caused a jealous Artemis to kill her.


Baltic Mythology

In Lithuanian and in Latvian, the cluster is called Sietynas and Sietiņš, respectively, The word is derived from sietas, which means "sieve". in Lithuanian and Latvian folk tales, the Pleiades are usually depicted as a sieve which gets stolen by the devil from the thunder god or is used to conjure light rain by thunder's wife and children.

There are also Lithuanian folk songs in which this star cluster is personified as a benevolent brother who helps orphan girls to marry or walks soldiers along the fields.

Source: Wikipedia

Ukrainian Folklore

In Ukrainian folklore, the Pleiades are known as Стожари (Stozhary), Волосожари (Volosozhary), or Баби-Звізди (Baby-Zvizdy).

Stozhary could be derived from stozharnya meaning "storehouse for hay and crops", relating to the Heliacal rising of the stars at harvest time.

It could also be reduced to the root sto-zhar, meaning "hundredfold glowing" or "a hundred embers".

Volosozhary (the ones whose hair is glowing), and Baby-Zvizdy (female-stars) both refer to female tribal deities. According to legend, seven maids lived long ago. They used to dance the traditional round dances and sing the glorious songs to honor the gods. After their death the gods turned them into water nymphs, and, having taken them to the Heavens, settled them upon the seven stars, where they dance their round dances (symbolic for moving the time) to this day.

Source: Wikipedia

The star cluster of the Pleiades is part of the constellation Taurus, but given the amount of Star Lore related to them, they deserve a separate entry.

Ursa Major

Celtic Mythology

In Ireland and on the British Isles, the asterism now called the Big Dipper was originally known as the Great Wain (i.e. wagon), Arthur's Wain, Charles's Wain or the Butcher's Cleaver. The terms Charles's Wain is derived from the still older Carlswćn, based on the Anglo-Saxon word Churl for man, - similar to the Karlsvagn (Man’s Chariot) in Viking and Norse mythology.

Later, the interpretation changed and the formation became known as as "the Plough" (An Camchéachta – the bent plough, in Irish).

The original Starry Plough flag Source: Wikipedia

In 1914, the Starry Plough became a political symbol by Irish Republican and left wing movements.

Source: Wikipedia


Although officially called Grote Beer (Great Bear), in Dutch the big Dipper is popularly known as Steelpannetje (Saucepan).

Source: Wikipedia


In Finnish, the asterism is sometimes called by its old Finnish name, Otava, which means a salmon weir. Ancient Finns believed the bear was lowered to earth in a golden basket from the constellation Ursa Major. When a bear was killed, its head was positioned on a tree to allow the bear's spirit to return to the heavens.

Source: Wikipedia

Finish Bear Spirit
Source: Pinterest

In Hungarian, the Big Dipper is commonly known as Göncölszekér (Göncöl's Wagon) or, less often, as Nagy Göncöl (Big Göncöl).

In Hungarian mythology, Göncöl was a táltos, a shaman who carried medicine that could cure any disease.

Source: Wikipedia

Hungarian shaman reenactor
Source: Wikipedia
Slavic Mythology

In most Slavic languages, as well as as in Romanian, the formation is call it the "Great Wagon."

Source: Wikipedia


In Lithuanian, the stars of the Big Dipper are known as Didieji Grįžulo Ratai ("The Big Back Wheels") or as Perkūno Ratai (The Wheels of Perkūnas).

In Baltic mythology, Perkūnas was the god of sky, thunder, lightning, storms, rain, fire, war, law, order, fertility, mountains, and oak trees.

Other Lithuanian names for the asterism are Kaušas (The Bucket), Vežimas (The Carriage) and Samtis (The Ladle).

Source: Wikipedia


Ursa Minor

The North Star in Slavic Mythology

In Slavic mythology, Polaris was called Perun's eye and countless Slavic and Hungarian astronomers continued this tradition – most known ones are Nicolaus Copernicus and Franz Xaver von Zach.

Perun was the highest god of the pantheon in Slavic religion. He was the god of sky, thunder, lightning, storms, rain, law, war, fertility and oak trees.

Source: Wikipedia

Figurine of Perun
12th century Veliky Novgorod
Source: Wikipedia

The North Star in Northern Europe

Due to precession, the celestial north pole was void of stars in ancient times. The first mentioning of a pole star usable for navigation can be found in England at around the 8th or 9th century AD.

In old English, the star we now know as Polaris was called scip-steorra, the ship-star; in the Old English rune poem, the T-rune (Tiwaz) is associated with a circumpolar constellation, compared to the quality of steadfastness or honour.

In 14th century Northern Europe, Polaris was called the "guiding star"; lodestar in Old English, leiðarstjarna in Old Norse and leitstern in Middle High German.

Sources: Wikipedia, Bruce Dickins: Runic and heroic poems of the old Teutonic peoples, p. 18

Tiwaz rune

In Finland, as R. H. Allen points out "apparently alone among the northern nations of Europe in this conception" the constellation is seen as a bear, being called Vähä Otawa, the Little Bear.

Polaris is known in Finland as Taehti, the Star at the Top of the Heavenly Mountain.

Source: R. H. Allen

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