Worldbuilding Wednesday 4/24/24: Let’s Talk About the Milky Way (Part 1)

The Origin of the Milky Way (1575) by Tintoretto.It’s hard to make out the action, but the nude central figure is Hera, the baby under her flailing left arm is Heracles, and the divine milk he spilled takes the form of tiny gold stars shooting upwards from his head.

The Milky Way  takes its name from a Greek myth about Heracles (Hercules in Roman myth) the son of Zeus and the mortal woman Alcmene. His mother, fearing the wrath of Hera, Zeus’s jealous wife, abandoned Heracles in the woods. But the infant was rescued by Athena, the goddess of wisdom and warcraft. Not being a motherly type, she placed him next to the sleeping Hera so he could suckle on her milk. Unfortunately, he suckled too hard, making Hera wake, and she pushed him away. The mouthful of milk that  spilled became the galaxias, or the way of milk, in the night sky, as the Greek word for milk is gala.

Over the centuries, galaxias eventually became galaxy, the familiar term we use today for these titanic clusters of stars and gas.

Other cultures gave the softly glowing arch, which rotates over the night, their own explanations. Many of them, as the Greeks did, reference it as a path or a road, and often a river, stream or sea. For example, Hindu mythology called it Kshira Sagara, or the Sea of Milk, perhaps related to the myth of Samudra Manthana, or the churning of the Ocean of Milk by a mountain. Other ways of explaining it were a giant chain, a fence, or even an animal’s belly or tail.

In that spirit, here’s a list of names some other culture might use.


Other names for the Milky Way

The Arc of Ascension

The Veils of Venus

Tiamat’s Tongue

Causeway of the Gods

Great Churn of Heaven

Misty Bridge

Abandoned Skyway

The Star-spindle

The Great Tether

Breath of the Frost Gods

Bone-powder Path

The Starstream

The Nightbow

Tail of the Great Serpent

The Lodges of the Star-Kin

The Great Loom

Falling-blossom way

Path of the dead

Cosmic crack

Creamy Cleft

Pearly Path

The Celestial Oarfish

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