late 14c., Pliades, "visible open star cluster in the constellation Taurus," in Greek mythology they represent the seven daughters of Atlas and Pleione, transformed by Zeus into seven stars. From Latin Pleiades, from Greek Pleiades (singular Plēias), perhaps literally "constellation of the doves" from a shortened form of peleiades, plural of peleias "dove" (from PIE root *pel- "dark-colored, gray"). Or perhaps from plein "to sail," because the season of navigation begins with their heliacal rising.
Old English had the name from Latin as Pliade. The star cluster is mentioned by Hesiod (pre-700 B.C.E.); only six now are visible to most people; on a clear night a good eye can see nine (in 1579, well before the invention of the telescope, the German astronomer Michael Moestlin (1550-1631) correctly drew 11 Pleiades stars); telescopes reveal at least 500. Hence French pleiade, used for a meeting or grouping of seven persons.
fem. proper name, from Latin Berenice, from Macedonian Greek Berenike (classical Greek Pherenike), literally "bringer of victory," from pherein "to bring" (from PIE root *bher- (1) "to carry") + nikē "victory" (see Nike).
The constellation Berenice's Hair (Coma Berenices) is from the story of the pilfered amber locks of the wife of Ptolemy Euergetes, king of Egypt, c. 248 B.C.E., which the queen cut off as an offering to Venus. The constellation features a dim but visible star cluster; Ptolemy (the astronomer) regarded it as the tuft of fur at the end of Leo's tail, but German cartographer Caspar Vopel put it on his 1536 globe, and it endured. Berenice's Hair is also sometimes incorrectly given as an old name of the star Canopus based on Holland's mistranslation of Pliny in 1601.
1550s in astronomy, in reference to a celestial circle, a line around the sky which, in any location, bounds the stars which are ever-visible from that latitude (in the Northern Hemisphere its center point is the celestial north pole); the concept goes back to the ancient Greeks, for whom this set of constellations included most prominently the two bears (arktoi), hence the name for the circle (see arctic). In Middle English it was the north cercle (late 14c.).
In geography, from 1620s as "the circle roughly 66 degrees 32 minutes north of the equator" (based on obliquity of the ecliptic of 23 degrees 28 minutes), marking the southern extremity of the polar day, when the sun at least theoretically passes the north point without setting on at least one summer day and does not rise on at least one winter one.
loose ("open") star cluster (M44) in Cancer, 1650s, from Latin praesaepe the Roman name for the grouping, literally "enclosure, stall, manger, hive," from prae "before" (see pre-) + saepire "to fence" (see septum).
It is similar to the Hyades but more distant, about 600 light-years away (as opposed to about 150 for the Hyades), consists of about 1,000 stars, mostly older, the brightest of them around magnitude 6.5 and thus not discernible to the naked eye even on the clearest nights, but their collective light makes a visible fuzz of nebular glow that the ancients likened to a cloud (the original nebula); Galileo was the first to resolve it into stars (1609).
The modern name for it in U.S. and Britain, Beehive, seems no older than 1840. Greek names included Nephelion "Little Cloud" and Akhlys "Little Mist." "In astrology, like all clusters, it threatened mischief and blindness" [Richard Hinckley Allen, "Star Names and Their Meanings," 1899].
"Manger" to the Romans perhaps by influence of two nearby stars, Gamma and Delta Cancri, dim and unspectacular but both for some reason figuring largely in ancient astrology and weather forecasting, and known as "the Asses" (Latin Aselli), supposedly those of Silenus.
An Old English masc. noun meaning "male witch, wizard, soothsayer, sorcerer, astrologer, magician;" see witch. Use of the word in modern contexts traces to English folklorist Gerald Gardner (1884-1964), who is said to have joined circa 1939 an occult group in New Forest, Hampshire, England, for which he claimed an unbroken tradition to medieval times. Gardner seems to have first used it in print in 1954, in his book "Witchcraft Today" ("Witches were the Wica or wise people, with herbal
knowledge and a working occult teaching usually used for good ...."). In published and unpublished material, he apparently only ever used the word as a mass noun referring to adherents of the practice and not as the name of the practice itself. Some of his followers continue to use it in this sense. According to Gardner's book "The Meaning of Witchcraft" (1959), the word, as used in the initiation ceremony, played a key role in his experience:
I realised that I had stumbled upon something interesting; but I was half-initiated before the word, 'Wica' which they used hit me like a thunderbolt, and I knew where I was, and that the Old Religion still existed. And so I found myself in the Circle, and there took the usual oath of secrecy, which bound me not to reveal certain things.
In the late 1960s the term came into use as the title of a modern pagan movement associated with witchcraft. The first printed reference in this usage seems to be 1969, in "The Truth About Witchcraft" by freelance author Hans Holzer:
If the practice of the Old Religion, which is also called Wicca (Craft of the Wise), and thence, witchcraft, is a reputable and useful cult, then it is worthy of public interest.
And, quoting witch Alex Sanders:
"No, a witch wedding still needs a civil ceremony to make it legal. Wicca itself as a religion is not registered yet. But it is about time somebody registered it, I think. I've done all I can to call attention to our religion."
Sanders was a highly visible representative of neo-pagan Witchcraft in the late 1960s and early 1970s. During this time he appears to have popularized use of the term in this sense. Later books c. 1989 teaching modernized witchcraft using the same term account for its rise and popularity, especially in U.S.
Old English Carles wægn, a star-group associated in medieval times with Charlemagne, but originally with the nearby bright star Arcturus, which is linked by folk etymology to Latin Arturus "Arthur." Which places the seven-star asterism at the crux of the legendary association (or confusion) of Arthur and Charlemagne. Evidence from Dutch (cited in Grimm, "Teutonic Mythology") suggests that it might originally have been Woden's wagon. More recent names for it are the Plough (by 15c., chiefly British) and the Dipper (1833, chiefly American).
It is called "the Wagon" in a Mesopotamian text from 1700 B.C.E., and it is mentioned in the Biblical Book of Job. The seven bright stars in the modern constellation Ursa Major have borne a dual identity in Western history at least since Homer's time, being seen as both a wagon and a bear: as in Latin plaustrum "freight-wagon, ox cart" and arctos "bear," both used of the seven-star pattern, as were equivalent Greek amaxa (Attic hamaxa) and arktos.
The identification with a wagon is easy to see, with four stars as the body and three as the pole. The identification with a bear is more difficult, as the figure has a tail longer than its body. As Allen writes, "The conformation of the seven stars in no way resembles the animal,--indeed the contrary ...." But he suggests the identification "may have arisen from Aristotle's idea that its prototype was the only creature that dared invade the frozen north." The seven stars never were below the horizon in the latitude of the Mediterranean in Homeric and classical times (though not today, due to precession of the equinoxes). See also arctic for the identification of the bear and the north in classical times.
A variety of French and English sources from the early colonial period independently note that many native North American tribes in the northeast had long seen the seven-star group as a bear tracked by three hunters (or a hunter and his two dogs).
Among the Teutonic peoples, it seems to have been only a wagon, not a bear. A 10c. Anglo-Saxon astronomy manual uses the Greek-derived Aretos, but mentions that "unlearned men" call it "Charles's Wain":
Arheton hatte an tungol on norð dæle, se haefð seofon steorran, & is for ði oþrum naman ge-hatan septemtrio, þone hatað læwede meon carles-wæn. ["Anglo-Saxon Manual of Astronomy"]
[Septemtrio, the seven oxen, was yet another Roman name.] The star picture was not surely identified as a bear in English before late 14c.
The unlearned of today are corrected that the seven stars are not the Great Bear but form only a part of that large constellation. But those who applied the name "Bear" apparently did so originally only to these seven stars, and from Homer's time down to Thales, "the Bear" meant just the seven stars. From Rome to Anglo-Saxon England to Arabia to India, ancient astronomy texts mention a supposed duplicate constellation to the northern bear in the Southern Hemisphere, never visible from the north. This perhaps is based on sailors' tales of the Southern Cross.