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Star Knowledge: Lakota Stars I

Posted on July 22nd, 2013 by Don Cerow


What did Native Americans know about the Sun, the Moon and the stars? If we look carefully, we can hear many indigenous peoples singing similar songs about the Love between the Moon and the deep-blue Sea.


According to the Lakota, the stars were called “The holy breath of the Great Spirit,” the woniya of Wakan Tanka. In the Islamic Tradition the stars are called hafs el Rahman, “The breath of the merciful One” (Allah). Lakota Star Knowledge was researched and written by Ronald Goodman. The preface, written by Ray A. Williamson, is subtitled Naked Eye Astronomy.



Through the Americas, whether from the stars, the sun or moon, Native North Americans have found laws and principles in the heavens by which to live. Native American groups throughout the hemisphere have been avid watchers of the sky, and have carefully noted the cyclic patters of the sun and moon, the stars and planets (Aveni 1977, 1989; Williamson 1981).



In earlier years, they had to heed the teachings of celestial events in order to survive. For agricultural groups, watching the regular motions of the sky made possible more accurate timing of planting and harvesting activities. Yet hunter gather or hunter forager societies also developed highly sophisticated celestial calendars. Recently, scholars are beginning to appreciate the extensive use such groups made of celestial calendars to guide food production and ritual activities (Benson and Hoskinson 1985).



The practical needs of food production most certainly aided the development of much sky watching. However, as this monograph illustrates, knowledge of the celestial calendar also served religious needs as well. It gave the Lakota as well as other Native American groups, greater power to participate fully in the rhythms of their environment. By careful observation, they learned important lessons about both Earth and Sky and their own place in the cosmos.



CommunicationOne of the primary impediments to interpreting sky-related traditions is today’s general lack of observational experience. Even many professional astronomers have little experience with naked eye observations. Yet naked eye observation allows one to construct a highly accurate calendar using the ordered patterns and motions of the celestial bodies. Native American groups also watched the motions of the planets, and other appearances, including comets, meteor showers, and lunar and solar eclipses, in order to guide their lives. Because this monograph is concerned with regular celestial events that provided sacred order to the Lakota, for these matters, I refer the reader to the discussion in my book (Williamson 1984: ch. 3).”



And from the introduction, by the author,



Traditional Lakota believed that ceremonies done by them on earth were also being performed simultaneously in the spirit world. When what is happening in the stellar world is also being done on earth in the same way at the corresponding place at the same time, a hierophany can occur; sacred power can be drawn down; attunement to the will of Wakan Tanka can be achieved.



Essentially, this is the theology of all astrology. What is happening in Heaven is a reflection of what is happening here on Earth.



As above, so below.



It shows that they felt a vivid relationship between the macrocosm, the star world, and their microcosmic world on the plains. There was a constant mirroring of what is above by what is below.



And so now we know.



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