Stories in the sky

On a clear moonless night, when you look up at the stars, do the innumerable dots in the sky take up definite shapes and forms?

When I look at the signs in the zodiac, I am always baffled by how those stick figures are made out to be a muscular bull or a ferocious lion.

Cancer – Takes quite the imaginative leap to picture a crab there (source)

In fact, if we presented all the stars in the zodiac sign ‘Scorpio’ to three people without the scorpion drawn around it, I am sure that we would end up with three alternative shapes that don’t involve a menacing creature with a stinger. Every zodiac sign is entirely arbitrary – the work of some Babylonian minds in the first millennium BC, which continues to see widespread adoption even today.

But it doesn’t end with those figures. We humans have also drawn up an elaborate field of study on their influence on our lives. Many a professional have made full-time careers in the 21st century on foretelling people’s future and guiding their lives based on the imaginative extrapolations of some ancient Babylonian minds.

The zodiac’s continued prominence emphasizes how stories matter to us more than the truth behind them. The human mind is captivated by the story of the Mahabharata, the Iliad or the life of Jesus Christ – not whether those are inherently true. Similarly, people are interested in the story of your brand, your restaurant or your fashion label rather than merely the underlying facts.

That the zodiac came to represent a menagerie of creatures and shapes is testimony to the human mind’s ability to tell fascinating stories. That they continue to endure into the 21st century is testimony to their timeless allure.

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