Seven Sister Variations
Sisters sailing, feather and skin; all things seamless, breathing in… the rain, We have to thank the rain.
These northern Pleiade girls had, as companions, birds, plants, Artemis and eruptive men. As doves they finally sailed to become travelling stars, signals of rain, season and ceremony. Crossing our country we have the southern travelling women, linking language to language. In the women’s tjukurrpa, seven wily sisters travel, outwitting Wati Niru, who chases them in the same sexually charismatic way as the Pleiades are pursued by Orion and Zeus - fertile lightning, raining promiscuous productivity. The canny desert Sisters and the spirited northern Pleiades have a kindred association.
These are the seven women who Sally Mumford has drawn.
1. Maia. The first sister., ‘The most beautiful’. The name Maia, is related to Maya Mata Mater Mother Matrix Ma, and the month of May. It is she who suffuses the fertility of the world. Maia dwells alone in a cave on Mt Cyllene, where liquid Zeus, in secret, visits her at night. Maia gives birth to Hermes, the seamless musical messenger between the many realms of nature. In Sally’s version, Maia is accompanied by the red-capped robin, bush turkey, and in the coolamon shaped vessel - poached egg daisy, broad leaf parakeelya,
Leader of the band, the brightest star, associated with sea, sailors for halcyon, a bird is fabled to breed on the sea. The latin halcyon, greek alcyon/ alkuon; means ‘kingfisher’ from hals (sea) and kuon (conceiving). ‘Halcyon days’ refers to the 14 days during which the kingfisher broods and the sea is calm.
Alcyone’s companion, the halcyon is known for fidelity, for, should her partner die the female carry his body on her winged back. A legend tells how Alcyone’s husband drowned at sea and she cast herself into the current, keeping him company In Sally’s version. The desert wedge tail eagle accompanies Alcyone,
3. Asterope. - From the Greek aster meaning ‘star’ - as in astronomy, astrology, astronaut - a voyager among the stars. Aster/Astri is associated with the glittering body of female divinities from ancient middle east- Astarte, Astrea, Ishtar Esther and Sumerian Inanna, known as the Lady of the Evening Star - to whom a song begins - ‘At the end of the day, the radiant Star, the Great Light that fills the sky. The lady of the evening appears in the heavens… My lady looks in sweet wonder from heaven…’
Aster is also a genus of plants with radiated flowers. Her fiery consort is Ares/ Mars. In Sally’s version Asterope is accompanied by Apple bush, Bluebells, Everlastings, Variable daisy. Parakeelya, Calytrix. The birds are based on the painted finch.
A lover of Poseidon, essence of the seas, she conceived two children, but little is told about her. She is one of the sisters barely visible to the naked eye. Her name comes from greek Kelaino, meaning ‘the darkened’ or swarthy one. Her name may be related to ‘ kele’, greek for swelling; for she is associated with a juicy refreshing fruit, a form of melon. The latin caelstis means ‘celestial’ - Celaeno is present but veiled in celestial mysteries. In Sally’s depiction she is accompanied by (a plump and succulent) red tail black cockatoo and Mueller’s peppercress
5. Taygeta. She too lived alone in a mountain cave (west of Sparta). A lithe intimate companion of Artemis, essence of wild animals. She too had to handle the lightning desire of Zeus. To protect her, Artemis transformed Taygeta into a deer but Zeus discovered, hunted and forcefully ‘took’ her while unconscious. It is said. Their son became king of Sparta. A sad story suggests that Taygeta hanged herself on the summit of her mountain. It is true that all the Pleiades are familiar with grief. In Sally’s depiction we see Taygeta with her golden red horns and face turned, perhaps, upon the eyes of the god who pursues her still. In the coolamon vessel; we see yellow tops, everlastings, variable daisy.
6. Electra This vibrant Pleaide has given her name to a famous woman of Greek tragic revenge cycles, Electra, sister of Orestes. ‘Electra’ is derived from the greek,elecktra or elecktron for ‘amber’. She is associated with the translucent winged bee, honey and high energy. Electra willingly consorted with the lightning being of Zeus; with whom she had four children. Myth suggests their encounters were racked with tumult. Their son, Dardanus, also associated with amber/honey, founded the city of Troy on the Dardenelles. Some say that she became so distraught at the destruction of Troy that she lost her original brilliance and thus, now is barely seen. Electra conceived the Harpies and Iris, the female divine messenger associated with the rainbow. In Sally’s depiction Electra is accompanied by fairy martins and rock isotoma
7. Merope The youngest sister. The etymology of her name may suggest she was partially blind or unseen, her face turned away. ‘Meropia’ is a medical condition of ‘partial blindness’. She is also linked to the word, ambrosia, and to mero, a bee-eater bird. Merope, with humility, chose a mortal as her husband, Sisyphus, who, it is said, did some treacherous things. His punishment was to push rocks up hill. Some say she ‘lowered her face in shame’ at this come down - but maybe Merope’s relationship is an example of the modesty of the truly human being. A modesty of the Madonna. In Sally’s depiction Merope is here accompanied by the turgid-fruited blue bell, desert goosefoot the rainbow bee-eater. She has a discrete turn of the head, familiar to those who appreciate the graceful beauty of women of India, consorts of Krishna, Ram, avatars of Vishnu who preserve and protect all valued species of creation. It might be said that Merope, the youngest sister is a mentor for unassuming folk like those who, with patient observation and humility allow divine beings to use their coloured pencils. Such artists, like Sally may also go partially blind from too much pencil work.
Craig San Roque