February 19, 2002

Stars tell Lakota stories


The Lakota constellations are visible in the winter sky, and they reflect Lakota mythology. A notable aspect of that mythology is that every event and object on earth has a correspondent in the sky.To ancient Lakotas, the Big Dipper signified the Seven Council Fires.

A Lakota woman who went to the sky to marry a star, then fell to her death from a rope of braided turnip stems as she was trying to return to her village on earth through a hole in the constellation. Even as she died, her child was born, and Fallen Star became the hero of many Lakota myths associated with the stars.

There is a star grouping in the southern sky. It depicts a brother and sister who climbed a low hill at Fallen Star’s urging to avoid a pursuing bear. Fallen Star made the hill rise, taking the children out of reach of the bear, who clawed futilely up and down its sides. The scoring from its claws can still be seen in what is known today as Wyoming’s Devil’s Tower.

Another legend recorded in the stars is the story of seven girls camped near what is now Harney Peak. Over seven days, each was taken off to the sky by an eagle. Fallen Star defeated the bird and returned the girls to earth but left their spirits in the sky.

In the Lakota starfield, Orion’s Belt is the spine of a bison. The Greek’s Betelgeuse in that constellation is part of the Lakota bison’s rib structure. The six-star cluster Pleiades in what the Greeks saw as the constellation Taurus, is the bison’s head.

Those stars and others low on the winter sky also depict a racetrack surrounding the Black Hills. On this course, all the birds and animals raced four times around the Black Hills. The winner got to decide if humans would remain on earth or would be swept away by the Thunder Beings.

The race was won by a bird, the long-tailed, black-and-white magpie, a creature viewed as only slightly better than a pest species by most people today. It should be held in higher regard; the magpie decided humans got to stay. Its great gift to mankind is memorialized in Lakota astronomy.

Star Knowledge
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