The demon haunted skies: Our place in the Universe

From a certain perspective, the sky is an incredible temple, representing the creativity and superstitions of human mentality. It is likely that the first supernatural association to the heavens arose during the dawn of humanity, as tribes of proto-humans gazed up at the wide arch of the Milky Way above the dark and ever dangerous plains of Africa and the Middle-East. There is little that is more impressive than a pure night sky, uncorrupted by the lights that currently dot the globe, and as this sight still impresses us today, it must have inspired awe in our ancestors.

By the time of civilization, the realm of the night sky had been partitioned and given powers associated with various gods and demons. Some of the earliest societies had what one would recognize as a zodiac with certain constellations wearing the façade of semi-mortal heroes. There were mightier beings yet in the celestial sphere – the planets. If one observes the sky every single night for a decent stretch of time, he or she will notice a few points that do not exactly move with the normal precision of the others; if one pays even more attention he or she may begin to notice that compared to the prior night, these abstract points occasionally go the wrong direction rather than advancing. In the modern world, it is known what these objects represent, were they gods tracking across the heavens, humans would not have been able to land rovers on them, as interesting of a concept as that is. In the days of antiquity on the other hand, the retrograde motion of the planets could mean only one thing, those entities were special.

Within the context of Roman civilization, the planets were given the names of the primary gods; the red dot clearly had to be associated with warfare, and thus it was given the identity of Mars, the more serene and bright second planet was deemed Venus. The slower planets were given more importance and thus became Jupiter, the ruler of the heavens, and Saturn. Finally, the dimmest planet, the one which held close to the Sun and moved the fastest was the messenger, Mercury. For millennia, these were the only known planets, but as single deity monotheism overtook the diversity of polytheism, the godlike visage of the planets was lost with the only theistic aspect being the angels who continued to push them around on their meandering orbits.

By the time of the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment, the laws of gravitation as well as motion had been postulated, and cherubs were no longer needed to explain the circular orbits of the heliocentric solar system, still an aspect of the ethereal realm remained veiled around the planets. Before close observation had taken place, the named planets retained some element of their former namesake. Were there life on Mars, it must have been violent and waring. The works of Ray Bradbury and Edgar Rice Burroughs reflect this as a cultural phenomenon. Venus was pictured to be a lush steamy planet, possibly with hyper intelligent beings. Even Jupiter retained an element of regality in the solar system and still does to this day.

While the skies are not nearly as demon-haunted as humans once imagined them to be, there is possibility that god-like beings may exist. If we ever encounter any sort of extra-terrestrial life on their terms, the chance that they will be far beyond us in terms of technology is likely; to this extent they may have the powers that had been attributed to gods. By the time we ourselves come to explore beyond our family of planets, we may too be the gods to some other alien civilization.

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