Over the last few weeks, we’ve been looking at the Lakota and listening to a few of their stellar stories. While there are differences between their theologies and those of western tradition, there are also similarities. The naming of the Bear, flight of the Thunderbird, and sharing of the sisters (Pleiades) provide an initial framework of familiarity we have previously examined.
But besides specific constellations, the Sun was also used as a unit of calibration. From the preface of Lakota Star Knowledge:
“Unlike the stars, which over a period of years at least, appear to follow the same circular track from night to night, the sun follows a more complicated path. During the course of a year, it appears to move both among the stellar background along a path astronomers call the ecliptic, and north and south along the horizon. Unlike the stars, which rise and set at the same points on the horizon when seen from a fixed location, the sun rises and sets at a different place each day. In the spring and fall, the daily change equals a full diameter of the sun, and the sun moves quickly along the horizon. As the year approaches the summer or winter solstices, the sun’s daily motion movement slows gradually. Finally, at the solstices, it comes to a halt and reverses its journey.”
Some of the brightest stars of heaven were bound together into a Sacred Hoop, ‘can fleska wakan’. The Lakota believe that all of life occurs within an unending circle, what we might think of as a spiral of time, space, matter and spirit. As this hoop was ‘grounded’ in the mythology of the Black Hills, they were seen by the Lakota as the microcosmic hoop out of which new life is annually born here on Earth.
“Each spring, a small group composed of especially devoted members from several Lakota bands journeyed through the Black Hills, synchronizing their movements to the motions of the sun along the ecliptic. As the sun moved into a particular Lakota constellation, they traveled to the site correlated with that constellation and held ceremonies there. Finally, they arrived at Devil’s Tower at midsummer for the Sun Dance where they were joined by many western Lakota bands.”
The stars that comprised the Sacred Hoop were the Pleiades, Orion’s belt, shoulder and knee, the dog stars Sirius and Procyon, Castor and Pollux of the Twins fame, and two of the bright stars of Auriga.
Some of the brightest stars, from some of the brightest constellations, forming the framework of an annual calendar, and showing the way in both time and space.
Although we generally think of mariners as those who use the stars to find their way across uncharted depths, nomads may use them too, such as the Lakota, whether for summer grazing or seasonal rotations of foods, the stars helped them to find their way.