The deeper one looks into the mythologies of indigenous peoples, the more one finds associations that link them to other traditions. We think of Ursa Major as the Great Bear, Big Dipper or the Wheel. Native Americans also called the seven principle stars of this constellation the Great Bear or Big Dipper. They tell stories of the Great Bear running across the trees through the late summer and then climbing the Great Tree of Heaven until it is shot with arrows and falls back to Mother Earth only to start the entire annual cycle all over again.
For Native Americans, the Milky Way is the path of the spirits as they both enter and leave the Earth.
“The Norsemen knew it as the Path of the Ghosts going to Valholl (Valhalla), in the region Gladhsheimr,— the palace of their heroes slain in battle; and our North American Indians had the same idea, as witness the “wrinkled old Nokomis,” when, teaching the little Hiawatha, she…
“Showed the broad white road in heaven, Pathway of the ghosts, the shadows, Running straight across the heavens, Crowded with the ghosts, the shadows, To the Kingdom of Ponemah, To the land of the hereafter…”
The Seven Sisters, the Pleiades, are known to the Lakota as the Seven Little Girls. Our Dragon, the constellation Draco, was mythologically known for his power over earthquakes, storms, thunder and lightning.
The Lakota saw the stars of the Draco as the Thunder Bird, Wakinyan.
Beyond the constellations, there are other similarities. In the West, our chief association with the owl is the bird of Pallas Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom. The Lakota also thought of the owl as wise. The following is an excerpt from one Lakota myth:
“Magpie called a council of the winged and told what he had heard. Some said the four-legged and moving and growing things were right (that the humans should be destroyed, because they caused so many problems in the world), and that the winged should join them. Then Owl spoke quietly.”
“Remember that Bear, the most esteemed of Maka’s children, who is the symbol of wisdom, is also of the two-legged. I ask you, what is the quality of life without wisdom? I say the value of wisdom obligates us to take action that will allow the two-legged to live.”
“The winged looked at each other and said, “Nunwe,” for they knew Owl spoke the truth.”
Naturally, there are also differences. The Lakota have constellations that might be considered foreign to us, for instance, the Turtle, whose shell is the great square of Pegasus, and the Salamander, consisting of the stars of Cygnus and Milky Way. These latter two constellations are prayed to at birth, “to ask them to bestow their power or essence on the baby. In this way, the infant is connected to the star world, that is, the spirit world, and incorporates sicun of the Turtle or Salamander.”
As one Native American midwife expressed it,
“The cord between mother and child is broken at birth, but the cord between spirit world and children, that connection must be established and never broken.”
The spiritual connection, the star connection, is forged at birth, with the first breath.
The star map, the chart and soul of the child.
Lakota Star Knowledge was researched and written by Ronald Goodman.