Fixed star:  POLARIS  Cynosura
Constellation:  Alpha (α) Ursa Minor
Longitude 1900:  27GEM10 Longitude 2000:  28GEM34
Declination 1900:  +88.46′ Declination 2000:  +89.15′
Right ascension:  02h 31m Latitude:  +66.05′
Spectral class:  F8 Magnitude:  2.1

The history of the star: Polaris

PolarisAlpha (α) Ursa Minor, Polaris, is a star in the tip of the tail of the Little Bear. Its name comes to us from Latin Stella Polaris, meaning “Pole Star”.

Polaris is our Pole star, situated at the north pole it never sets and as Wikipedia explains Polaris stands almost motionless on the sky, and all the stars of the Northern sky appear to rotate around it. Therefore, it makes an excellent fixed point from which to draw measurements for celestial navigation and for astrometry. Other stars along this circle were the pole star in the past and will be again in the future, including Thuban and Vega. Polaris has been close to the actual position of the north pole for over 1000 years.

Polaris has long been an important star to sailors, caravans of old winding their way over the desert by night and others who navigated their way by the stars. Located almost directly overhead as seen from the North Pole, it is situated at the tip of the tail of the Little Bear, Ursa Minor and the brightest star of that constellation. Perhaps more than any star other than the Sun; Polaris has been regarded as the most important star in the heavens. It has been known by many names in the past; “the Pathway” “the Pointer” – indicating the way; “Navel of the World”, “Gate of Heaven”, “Hub of the Cosmos”, “the Highest Peak of the World Mountain”, “Lodestar” “the Steering Star” “the Ship Star” and Stella Maris “Star of the Sea”.

Greek navigators of old called Polaris; Kynosoura, which means “the Dog’s Tail”. The name came into our English language as Cynosure, which means “an object that serves as a focal point of attention and admiration” or “Something that serves to guide”.

The proximity of the stars of the two bears (Ursa Major and Ursa Minor) to the North Celestial Pole gave the impression that they were wheeling around this point, pulling perhaps a plough behind them, tilling the heavenly fields and driven on by Bootes the Bear Driver who chases or herds the Bears around Polaris. Another version of this story has it that the oxen were tied to the polar axis and were driven on by Bootes, assisted by his two dogs Canes Venatici, “in order that the rotations of the heavens should never cease.”

In past ages, whichever star held the position of Pole Star was worshipped as the star of that age and temples were built to them in ancient Egypt. Polaris is now the star of our own age. The planet, Uranus, was discovered one degree longitude away from this star.

A good essay on Polaris by Lance Carlyle Carter can be read on this website: http://www.aquarian-age.net/goddess.html 

from p.453 of Star Names, Richard Hinckley Allen, 1889.

Phoenice was the early Greek name, borrowed from its constellation, for this “lovely northern light” and the “most practically useful star in the heavens”; but for many centuries it has been Stella Polaris, the Pole-star, or simply Polaris,— The Italian astronomer Riccioli’s (1598–1671) Pollaris; this position seeming to be first recognized in literature by Dante when he wrote in the Paradiso

The mouth imagine of the horn

That in the point beginneth of the axis

Round about which the primal wheel revolves.

Euclid (circa 300 B.C.) said in his Phainomena

A star is visible between the Bears (Ursa Major and Ursa Minor), not changing its place, but always revolving upon itself;

Hipparchos (circa 160-120 B.C.), that the pole was “in a vacant spot forming a quadrangle with three other stars,” both of these calling this (Greek) Polos, the (Latin) Polus of Lucan (39-65A.D.), Ovid (43 B.C.-18?A.D.), and other classical Latins; and Euphratean observers had called their pole-star Pul, or Bil. But, although other astronomical writers used these words for some individual star, there is no certainty as to which was intended, for it should be remembered that during many millenniums the polar point has gradually been approaching our pole-star, which 2000 years ago was far removed from it,— in Hipparchos’ (circa 160-120 B.C.) time 12°24′ away according to his own statement quoted by Marinus of Tyre and cited by the second-century Greek astronomer Ptolemy. Miss Clerke writes as to this:

{p.454} “The entire millennium before the Christian era may count for an interregnum as regards Pole-stars. Alpha (α) Draco (Thuban) had ceased to exercise that office; Alruccabah (Polaris) had not yet assumed it.”

Kochab (the beta, β, star of Ursa Minor), and kappa (κ) of Draco, at different times in that epoch, may have been considered as this pole-star, the last a 4th-magnitude about 10° distant from the true pole; although the 5th-magnitude , 4° away in Alexandrian-Greek astronomer Eratosthenes’ (276?-196 B.C.) day, perhaps was intended. And this is not unlikely, as this inconspicuous object, for some reason, was sufficiently noteworthy among the Chinese to bear the title How Kung, the Empress. The (Greek) aei phanes, “ever visible,” of the 5th-century Stobaeus may have referred to our Polaris, then about 7° distant from the pole.

The fact that the Polaris of his day did not exactly mark the pole was noted by Pytheas, the Greek astronomer and navigator of Massilia, the modern Marseilles, about 320 B.C.; and till this discovery the belief was prevalent that the heavenly pole was absolutely fixed.

In none of the foregoing cases’ does a single star seem to be mentioned as a guide in navigation; but as knowledge in this art increased, our alpha (α) took the place of its constellation as Stella Maris, a title that Saint Jerome, in his Onomasticon, applied to the Virgin Mary; there, however, with no marine, or stellar, connection. But a star, being always a symbol of sanctity, was peculiarly so of the holiest of women, so that this title of the chief star of heaven was adopted as one interpretation of her Jewish name Miriam.

The 17th century German astronomer Bayer’s la Tramontana (a classical name for a northern wind, a cold north wind in Italy, from “trans-montanus, ‘of a mountain'”. The English word “tramontane” means “a person who lives beyond the mountains”, “a foreigner; a stranger) was well known before his day, for Eden translated from the First Decade, printed in 1511, “cauled by the Italians Tramontana”; and Jehan de Mandeville (“syr Iohn Maundauile”) more than a century before the discovery of our continent (America), in his statement of his belief in the sphericity of the earth, wrote of it as

“the Sterre Transmontane, that is clept the Sterre of the See, that is unmevable, and that is toward the Northe, that we clepen the Lode Sterre.”

One derivation of this transmontane is from the fact that the nations along the Mediterranean saw the star beyond their northern mountain boundary; and the word appears in the popular saying, current among the Latin races, of a man’s “losing his Tramontane” when one had lost his bearings. Another earlier and much more probable origin, however, is from a title for the constellation already alluded to. Similarly the Finns know Polaris as Taehti, the Star at the Top of the Heavenly Mountain.

Anglo-Saxons of the 10th century said that it was the Scip-steorra, the Ship-star; Eden, “cauled of the Spanyardes Nortes“; the 17th century German astronomer Bayer, Angel Stern, the {p.455} Pivot Star, and the Latin Navigatoria; while it was the Steering Star to early English navigators, who

“knew no North, but when the Pole Star shone”.

Andrew Marvell, strangely the common friend of John Milton and King

Charles II, said:

“By night the northern star their way directs;”

and Thomas Moore wrote, in his Light of the Haram

“that star, on starry nights

The seaman singles from the sky

To steer his bark for ever by.”

Thus, as the leading star, it became the Loadstar, or Lodestar, of early English authors; Spenser saying:

“The pilot can no loadstar see,”

and Shakespeare’s Helena, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, tells Hermia

“Your eyes are lodestars.”

Milton’s Comus had the much quoted

Our Star of Arcady

Or Tyrian Cynosure; and L’Allegro :

The Cynosure of neighb’ring eyes,—

a designation of Polaris which has everywhere become common; while Cinosura and Cynosura regularly appeared in scientific works of the 17th and 18th centuries; but this was one of the ancients’ titles for the whole of Ursa Minor, and never, by them, limited to the lucida (brightest star in a constellation). The Star of Arcady either referred to Arcadia, the earthly home of Kallisto (identified with Ursa Major), or to Arcas, her son(identified with Ursa Minor), transferred to the skies by his father Jove, when ignorantly about to slay his mother after her transformation. The poet, however, followed a common error in locating Arcas here, for he properly was identified with Bootes

The Chinese had several names for it,— Pih Keih; Ta Shin; Tien Hwang Ta Ti, the Great Imperial Ruler of Heaven, the circumpolar stars circling around it in homage, the whole forming the Purple Subtle Enclosure; and Ti or Ti Tso, the Emperor’s Seat, this last also being borne by alpha (α) Hercules. And it was Tow Kwei, as with Ursa Major, from its square of stars, beta (β Merak), gamma (γ Phecda), zeta (ζ Mizar), and eta (η Alkaid). Its first use in navigation is ascribed to their emperor Hong Ti, or Hwang Ti, a grandson of Noah! However this may be, it seems certain that some polar star, or constellation, has been used in China from remote antiquity.

In earliest Northern India the star nearest the pole was known as Grahadhara, the Pivot of the Planets, representing the great god Dhruva, and the Persian astronomer Al Biruni (973-1048 A.D.) said that among the Hindus of his time it was Dhruva himself. It was an object of their worship, as our Polaris is to-day among the Mandaeans along the Tigris and lower Euphrates.

The Arabs knew Polaris as Al Kiblah, “because it is the star least distant from the pole,” although then 5° away, and helped them, in any strange location distant from an established place of worship, to know the points {p.457} of the compass and thus the direction of Mecca and its Ka’bah (Kaaba), towards which every good Muslim must turn his head in prayer. They also called it Al Jadi, the Young He Goat, which subsequently degenerated to Juddah, as Niebuhr heard it a century ago, and known in Desert story as Giedi, the slayer of the dead man on the Bier of Ursa Major

Wetzstein says that in Damascus it is called Mismar, a Needle or Nail.

As marking the north pole it bore the latter’s title, Al Kutb al Shamaliyy, the Northern Axle, or Spindle, from Al Kutb, the Pin fixed in the under stone of a mill around which the upper stone turns; and this same thought later appeared in English poetry, as in Marlowe’s History of Doctor Faustus, where he says of the stars that

All jointly move upon one axletree

Whose terminine is term’d the world’s wide pole.

The Arabian astronomers knew it as Al Kaukabal Shamaliyy, [Allen notes: Kaukab is the same as the Assyrian and Chaldaean word Kakkab, the Hebrew Kohabh; this last also the fighting name of Bar Cochab, the Son of a Star, who was the leader of the second revolt of the Jews in 132-135, during the reign of Hadrian, his shekels bearing a star over a tetrastyle temple. The name was variously written, but correctly as Bar Coziba, from his birthplace.] the Star of the North, an appellation perhaps given by their nomad ancestors to beta (β Kochab) as nearer the pole in their time.

The 13th century Persian astronomical writer Al Kazwini mentioned the belief of the common people that a fixed contemplation of Al Kaukab would cure itching of the eyelids,— ophthalmia, then, as now, being the prevalent disease of the Desert.

The Alfonsine Tables of 1521 have Alrucabaet est Stella polaris sive Polus; and the 17th century German astronomer Bayer, AlruccabahseuRuccabahIsmaelitis; but this was shared with the next star, as also with the constellation.

The Turks know it as Yilduz, the Star par excellence; and have a story that its light was concealed for a time after their capture of Constantinople.

Polaris is 1° 14′ distant from the exact pole (Wikipedia says 42′ away as of 2006), which lies on the straight line drawn from Polaris to zeta (ζ) Ursa Major (Mizar), and will continue in gradual approach to the pole till about the year 2095, when it will be only 26′ 30″ {p.458} away. It will then recede in favor successively of gamma (γ), pi (π), zeta (ζ), nu (ν), and alpha (α) of Cepheus (Alderamin), alpha (α) and delta (δ) of the Swan (CygnusDeneb Adige is alpha), and Wega (Vega) of the Lyre, when, marked by this last brilliant star, 11,500 years hence the pole will be about 50° distant from its present position and within 5° of Wega (Vega), which for 3000 years will serve as the pole-star of the then existing races of mankind. The polar point will thence circle past iota (ι) and tau (τ) Hercules, theta (θ), iota (ι), and alpha (α) Draco, beta (β) Ursa Minor, and kappa (κ) Draco back to our alpha (α) again; the entire period being from 25,695 to 25,868 years, according to different calculations. Shakespeare did not know all this when he wrote in Julius Caesar :

“constant as the Northern Star, Of whose true fixed and resting quality There is no fellow in the firmament.”

Star Names, Their Lore and Meaning, Richard Hinckley Allen, 1889].

The astrological influences of the constellation Ursa Minor

Legend: According to some accounts this constellation, Ursa Minor, represents Arcas, son of Callisto and Jupiter (see Bootes and Ursa Major). Other writers state that it is meant to represent Cynosura, one of the Nymphs of Crete who reared the infant Jupiter; the other, Helice, being Ursa Major. [Robson, p.65-66.]

Influences: According to Ptolemy the bright stars are like Saturn and in some degree like Venus. It is said to give indifference and improvidence of spirit, and to lead to many troubles. By the Kabalists it is associated with the Hebrew letter Tau and the 21st Tarot Trump “The Universe.” [Robson, p.66.]

The astrological influences of the constellation Ursa Minor given by Manilius:

“Now where heaven reaches its culmination in the shining Bears (Ursa Major and Ursa Minor), which from the summit of the sky look down on all the stars and know no setting and, shifting their opposed stations about the same high point, set sky and stars in rotation, from there an insubstantial axis runs down through the wintry air and controls the universe, keeping it pivoted at opposite poles: it forms the middle about which the starry sphere revolves and wheels its heavenly flight, but is itself without motion and, drawn straight through the empty spaces of the great sky to the two Bears and through the very globe of the Earth, stands fixed, since the entire atmosphere ever revolves in a circle, and every part of the whole rotates to the place from which it once began, that which is in the middle, about which all moves, so insubstantial that it cannot turn round upon itself or even submit to motion or spin in circular fashion, this men have called the axis, since, motionless itself, it yet sees everything spinning about it.

“The top of the axis is occupied by constellations well known to hapless mariners, guiding them over the measureless deep in their search for gain. Helice (Ursa Major), the greater, describes the greater arc; it is marked by seven stars which vie with each other under its guidance the ships of Greece set sail to cross the seas.

Cynosura (Ursa Minor) is small and wheels round in a narrow circle, less in brightness as it is in size, but in the judgment of the Tyrians it excels the larger bear.

“Carthaginians count it the surer-guide when at sea they make for unseen shores. They are not set face to face: each with its muzzle points at the other’s tail and follows one that follows it. Sprawling between them and embracing each the Dragon (Draco) separates and surrounds them with its glowing stars lest they ever meet or leave their stations.” [Astronomica, Manilius, 1st century AD, p.27].

The astrological influences of the star Polaris

Of the nature of Saturn and Venus. It causes much sickness, trouble, loss of fortune, disgrace and great affliction, and may give legacies and inheritances attended by much evil. The Arabs were of the opinion that the contemplation of Polaris cured ophthalmia. [Robson, p.185.]

The pole star, Polaris, is the main star of “the small Bear”, situated on the tail, has a Saturn nature, combined with qualities of Sun and Venus. It might seem strange to include this fixed star here, as its latitude is about 60° and therefore placed far outside of the ecliptic in which the planets move. Measured on the ecliptic, it is situated closely conjunct with Alpha Orionis, Betelgeuze, the main star of Orion. The Chinese considered the Pole Star as “the great honorable Lord of the Heavens”. Other races too had high admiration for it, and one can draw the conclusion that, in a relevant position in the natal chart, it will give spiritual powers to the bearer, and he will be highly respected. The Pole Star serves as a guide and indicator. If it is conjunct with planets in the angles, the native will have a good sense of discretion and is able to follow “his instinct”. He clearly recognizes his aims, and will pursue and achieve them.  [Fixed Stars and Their Interpretation, Elsbeth Ebertin, 1928, p.35-36.]

With Sun: Many troubles and evils. [Robson, p.185.]

With Moon: Hatred of the vulgar, ill-will of women and danger from thieves. [Robson, p.185.]


Fixed Stars and Constellations in Astrology, Vivian E. Robson, 1923].