Sky Scrolls is an evolving archive of our stories of the stars. Since 2014, I have been collecting star stories from the public, which has culminated in an interactive website that accepts story submissions and then archives the growing collection of stories. Each submitted story becomes a 3D visualization where the words form one of several spiral designs inspired by galaxy types. I also create artworks and installations from the stories. The intent of the project is to collect thousands of written stories from people of all ages and in any language that recount their personal and heartfelt experiences while stargazing and share what it meant to them at that moment in their lives. Tremendous, thoughtful, and deeply moving stories have been submitted from people all over the globe, illuminating the incredible significance our view of the cosmos has on our lives.
From the moment humans began sharing in the power of story, we have shared in stories of the stars. Some of the earliest carvings, stone circles, and cave art—dating tens and even hundreds of thousands of years—depict supernovas, comets, constellations, lunar cycles, and accurate star charts. Gazing up at the starry universe has sparked awe and wonder across time, giving rise to worldviews, cosmologies, and traditions, motivating art, literature, and architecture, and guiding traditional knowledge, philosophies, and science. As far back as we can see in the material remains of our species’ lineage, cultures have looked to the stars to answer some of the most fundamental human questions, whether to locate and understand our place in the universe or to reflect on the meaning of our lives.
Our stories are the cultural evidence of what we hold as meaningful in our hearts and minds and sharing them allows for a kind of social remembering. Story roots us in personal, social, and cultural experiences and has the ability to move beyond time and place. Studies in neuroscience have shown what traditional knowledge and cultural making practices have known since their onset: that story can guide us toward empathy, social justice, and personal transformation. When telling our story to others, the part of the brain that regulates moral sensibilities and empathy is illuminated in both speaker and listener. The constellations of our stories are as wondrous as the constellations of the stars.
I’ve been a longtime stargazer and advocate for dark sky preservation. In 2013, I began researching and writing about the many deleterious effects that light pollution is having on our view of the universe and why that matters (for a brief interview from 2014 with The Cultural Landscape Foundation on my thoughts about dark sky stewardship click here). My research made clear that nurturing our relationship with the starry night—and preserving and restoring the natural night—is critical to the health of all Earth’s systems. To achieve natural and cultural sustainability we must enter into a dialogue about those things that threaten our cultural wellbeing, ecological stability, species biodiversity, and biological health. The research on the vanishing night sky indicates that each of these is in peril due to our over-illumination of the night, and go beyond the tangible, visible effects—the veiling of the night sky also threatens the more intangible aspects of our cultural continuity and traditional knowledge as well. As a diverse and creative species, if we lack a view of the universe, a view that has connected us with a sense of awe and left an imprint of wonder on our hearts and minds, what part of us wanes?
In marking our current personal, social, national, and global moment through our stories under the waxing and waning of our Moon’s light, under the rare glimpse of a passing comet, under the breathtaking surprise of a bright falling meteor, under the imaginative constellations that shift seasonally in the sky and under the orbits of the planets we share the solar system with… stars and story can be reflections of each other.
Stargazing is something we can do from our backyards, front stoop, rooftop, or windows. Whether in solitude or with your quarantine circle, stargazing can connect us even when we are apart. Looking up at the stars together, our eyes become their own constellation of stars, for every time we look up at the stars our eyes are literally absorbing starlight photons into our bodies. A part of the star’s own story meets yours in the very moment you gaze upward at them. Will you meet me under the stars?
Visit the Sky Scrolls website, to read the growing collection of stories—and please consider adding your own story to the archive!