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Star Lore


Part 5 - The Americas

Cheyenne Shield Named after the seven daughters of Atlas and Pleione in Greek mythology, the Pleiades are arguably the star formation with the most recorded star lore.

The star cluster is a prominent sight in winter in the Northern Hemisphere.

The Pleiades have been observed by humans at least since the Bronze Age.


The Assiniboine of the Northern Plains tell a tale about seven brothers. They were orphans, living all alone and had a very hard life. One day, the youngest, called Red Hair, while playing with a web he had borrowed from a friendly spider, thought about becoming something else. He told his brothers, if they would transform themselves into something else, wind and snow would not bother them anymore and they wouldn't have to go to bed hungry.

So, what would they want to become. They considered different options, but each one had a downside. Transforming into earth, the would get muddy in the rain; transforming into water, they would dry out in the summer. Rocks crumble, wood breaks, daylight fears the night, the night fears daylight.

Assiniboine boys, 1900
© Frank A. Rinehart

Then, the oldest brother, who they called Wise One, said, "Sky country never changes. Stars live up there and never change or die. They fear nothing. Let us go to star country."

Red Hair hoisted them up into the sky with the help of his spider web. He sat in the middle and placed three brothers to his right and three brothers to his left.

Source: Stewart, Williamson; They dance in the sky: Native American star myths p. 76


In the Aztecs calendar, the new year began with the heliacal rising of the Pleiades in the east, immediately before the sun's dawn light obliterated the view of the stars.

The Aztecs called the Pleiades Tiānquiztli, meaning "marketplace".

Source: Wikipedia

Aztec merchants
Source: Wikipedia


The Blackfoot of the Northern Plains have an orphan story similar to that of their Assiniboine neigbors.

Wikipedia records the story told by Native American storyteller Paul Goble:

In this story, the Pleiades are "...orphans ("Lost Boys") that were not cared for by the people, so they became stars. Sun Man is angered by the mistreatment of the children and punishes the people with a drought, causing the buffalo to disappear, until the dogs, the only friends of the orphans, intercede on behalf of the people. Because the buffalo are not available while the Lost Boys are in the skies, the cosmical setting of the Pleiades was an assembly signal for Blackfoot hunter to travel to their hunting grounds.

Source: Wikipedia
Blackfoot children with dog
© Wikipedia


The Cherokee in southeastern North America have a story similar to the Lenape/Delaware tale. In their version, seven boys who would not do their ceremonial chores and wanted only to play, ran around and around the ceremonial ball court in a circle until they rose up into the sky. Only six of the boys made it to the sky; the seventh was caught by his mother and fell to the ground with such force that he sank into the ground. A pine tree grew over his resting place.

Source: Wikipedia


A Cheyenne shield on display at the Detroit Institute of Arts shows the Pleiades as part of its decoration. The shield is dated between 1860 and 1868.

The word Cheyenne derives from the french chienne, meaning dog. The Cheyenne called themselves Tsėhésenėstsestȯtse. In their creation story, the dogs adopted the people into their tribe, and taught them how to communicate and how to hunt.

Source: Cheyenne Dog People.

Cheyenne Shield
Source: Detroit Institute of Arts
That close relation between dogs and people is reflected in the tale of The Girl Who Married a Dog.
A chief had a fine-looking daughter. She had a great many admirers. At night she was visited by a young man, but she did not know who he was. She worried about this and determined to discover him. She put red paint near her bed. When he crawled on her bed, she put her hand into the paint. When they embraced, she left red marks on his back.

They next day she told her father to call all the young men to a dance in front of his tent. They all came, and the whole village turned out to see them. She watched all that came, looking for the red marks she had made. As she turned about, she caught sight of one her father's dogs with red marks on his back. This made her so unhappy and she went straight into her tent. This broke up the dance.

Cheyenne Scouts
© Howard Terpning

The next day she went into the woods near the camp, taking the dog on a string. She hit him. He finally broke loose. She was very unhappy, and several months later she bore seven pups. She told her mother to kill them, but her mother was kind toward them and made a little shelter for them. They began to grow, and sometimes at night the old dog came to them. After a time, the woman began to take an interest in them and sometimes played with them. When they were big enough to run, the old dog came and took them away.
When the woman went to see them in the morning, they were gone. She saw the large dog's tracks and several little ones, and followed them at a distance. She was sad and cried. She returned to her mother and said, "Mother, make me seven pairs of moccasins. I am going to follow the little ones, searching for them." Her mother made seven pairs of moccasins, and the woman started out, tracking them all the way. Finally, in a distance, she saw a tent. The youngest one came to her and said, "Mother, Father wants you to go back. We are going home. You cannot come." She said, "No!" Wherever you go, I go." She took the little one and carried him to the tent. She entered and saw a young man, who took no notice of her. He gave her a little meat and drink, which did not grow less no matter how much she ate. Cheyenne Dog Soldier
Source: Wikipedia
She tied the little pup to her belt with a string. Next morning, she was left alone and the tent had vanished. She followed the tracks and again came upon them. Four times this happened in the same way. But the fourth time the tracks stopped.

She looked up into the sky. There she saw her seven pups. They had become seven stars, the Pleiades.



The Cree in what is now Canada refer to the Pleiades as Atchakos Ahkoop, the Star Blanket, which was given to the people by Atchakos Iskwew, Star Woman.

The seven points of the star blanket were symbolic of Pakone Kiisic, the Hole-in-the-Sky. In Cree legend, Atchakos Iskwew was a being of energy and spirit called Atchakos Iskwew who was able to traveled through realities.

Wilfred Buck describes the "Hole-in-the-Sky" as a wormhole, allowing spirits to travel.

In another Cree interpretation, the Pleiades are seen as Matootisan Assiniuk, which are glowing hot stones for a sweat lodge ceremony.

Source: Wilfred Buck: Atchakosuk

Atchakos Ahkoop, the Star Blanket
Source: Atchakosuk


The Inuit in northern Canada, call the Pleiades Kaguyagat the "Red Fox." The constellation Taurus, called Nanook is the spirit of the Polar Bear.

Another Wikipedia source uses the word Nanurjuk.

In one legend, Nanook was chased by hunting dogs. Hunt went on and on and Nanook was not able to shake it´s pursuers off. They ran all the way to the edge of the world. In the joy of the hunt Nanook and the dogs did not notice the cliff. They all plunged into the star sky. This is how the constellation of Pleiades was born.

Source: Inuit legend: How Stars Got Into The Sky

Nanook, the Great Polar Bear Spirit
Source: Gods & Goddess Wiki


The Kiowa of the Geat Plains see Seven Star Girls in the Pleiades and link the origin of the the stars to Devils Tower.

The seven little girls were chased by bears, and climbed a low rock. They begged the rock to save them, and it grew higher and higher until they were pushed up into the sky. The seven girls became the Pleiades and the grooves on Devils Tower are the marks of the bear's claws.

Source: Wikipedia

Bear at Devils Tower
© Herbert Collins

The Lenape or Delaware in northeast North America tell the story of the nishash lepweinuwak, the Seven Wise Men:

At one time there were seven wise men who lived among the people. They were so wise that the people would constantly come to them, day and night. It got so bad that the seven men decided, “We have to get away. We need to have some peace. We can’t have people coming to our wikewamseveryday and asking us myriads of questions."

So what they did was they decided, "We’ll go away from the village a little up into the mountain and turn ourselves into boulders, big rocks."

The Seven Wise Men
Source: Cindy's open house

And everything was fine but one day this one young man was out hunting and he happened to see these seven boulders that were a little different than any rocks he had ever seen before. So he started coming back to them every day and eventually he found that if he whispered to the rocks, therocks would talk back to him. He was shocked. But, the rocks were answering his questions. Well, it wasn’t long before he went back to the village and told the people about these seven wonderful stones that they could ask questions to. So the people started leaving the village and coming up the mountain to the seven rocks.
So soon the seven wise men said,"We’ve got to change. We’ve got to get away. We’ve had no peace here now." So they went up on top of the mountain and turned themselves into seven beautiful cedar trees. And there they stood and they felt the winds blowing through their needles and just felt at peace. But it wasn’t long before the people started noticing that these seven beautiful trees had beautiful songs coming from them. And it wasn’t long before the people realized that these were the seven wise men that they could go to for their answers.

So then the seven wise men said "What do we do? We need some time away from everybody. We need some time in the stillness and peace." And then they looked up and they thought "Let’s turn into seven stars, so that we can still look down on the people, but the people can’t come and bother us too much." So they turned themselves into the seven stars that some people call the Pleiades and from there they standtoday and look out over our people.

Source: Swarthmore College

Lenape Chief Lappawinsoe
Source: Wikimedia


To the Lakota, Orion's Belt is the spine of a bison, called Tayamnicankhu. The surrounding rectangle of the constellation forms the ribs.

The head, called Tayamnipha is represented by the Pleiades.

Source: Mark Hollabaugh: The Spirit and the Sky: Lakota Visions of the Cosmos, p. 65

Lakota Buffalo Drum

Maya / Olmec

Susan Milbrath sees evidence that the Maya may have seen the rattle of a rattlesnake in the Pleiades.

Relating the star cluster to a snake's rattle may go back to the time of the Olmecs.

Source: Susan Milbrath: Star Gods of the Ancient Maya

Snake at at La Venta Olmec Museum, Villahermosa

The Mono or Monache in Central California saw six wives and one little child, when they told the story of The Wild Onion Wives:

Long ago, when the world was nearly new, six families lived at the edge of a village, and each day the husbands set out into the forests to hunt. While they were gone, the wives went out in search of herbs to prepare the meat.

One day, as the wives were digging in the Earth, they discovered a plant they had never before seen - round and white with a long green stem. The women thought it looked lovely. They tasted it. "It's delicious. Just the right combination of tangy and sweet," they agreed. The wives had discovered sweet onions.

Once they began eating, they could not stop.
Wild Onions
Source: Wild Edible Wednesday
They ate until it was late in the day, and then they hurried home to build the fires to cook supper.

When the husbands returned home, they were exhausted from their hunt, but they brought back a bounty of deer meat, and they looked forward to a delicious meal. But when they walked into the lodge, they smelled something strange.

"What is spoiled?" the first husband asked. "Something stinks," said the second, and when the third approached his wife, he stopped and held his nose. "It's you who smells so wretched!" he cried. But the wives were excited about their discovery, and so they reached into their baskets and handed over the onions. "Taste these," they said. "If you taste them, you won't mind the smell." But the husbands shook their heads. "The stench is terrible," they complained. They told their wives they must sleep outside that night.

The next day, the husbands once again went out hunting, and the wives returned to the spot in the forest where they had found the onions. "I don't care if my husband doesn't like the smell," said one of the women. "These are too good to resist," and she began to eat. The others could not resist. "Who cares about our husbands?" they said. "They'll learn to love these if they try."

And once again, they ate and ate.

When the husbands returned that evening, they were in a terrible mood. "The deer would not come near us because we smell so terrible," one said. "It's all your fault, and the fault of that terrible plant." "We don't believe you," the wives said. "You must have been unlucky." Still, once again that night, the husbands told their wives they must sleep outside under the stars. The next day, the same thing happened. And the day after that, it happened again, until a week had passed, and the men could catch nothing at all. "All the animals run from us because of that terrible smell we carry," the men complained to their wives.

"We can't sleep outside forever," said the wives. "It's chilly and uncomfortable." So they bickered. The wives wished their husbands would try the onions, but the husbands wished their wives would give up on this strange plant. They could not reach an agreement, and once again, the wives slept outside.

On the seventh day, the wives made a grave decision. "We cannot live this way," they agreed. One of the wives lifted her baby girl out of her special cradle. "We're going away," she whispered, and all the women walked out into the fields, to the spot where the onions grew. They brought along their ropes made of eagle feathers, milkweed fibers and willow bark. When they came to a big warm rock, they stopped to rest and talk. "We must leave our husbands," said one of the women. "Yes, we must," the others agreed.

The oldest wife, who knew magic, began to whisper powerful words up to the sky. She tossed her rope high in the air, and it began to rise, higher and higher. When it was high above the Earth, it hooked over a cloud, and the two sides of the rope hung down to Earth. The women and the baby stood on the ends of the rope and began to sing. They sang to the sun and moon and to the sky. They sang to all the bounties of the Earth. They sang so sweetly and loudly, the ropes began to dance and rise. Soon the ropes were swinging in great circles, rising higher and higher, carrying the women higher into the sky with every swing.

Before long, the people of the village saw the women dancing in the sky. Their mothers and fathers called, "Please, come back!" But the six wives and the little girl kept swinging and rising. When their husbands returned from their hunt that night, they discovered their wives were missing. They were hungry. And they were tired. And now they were lonely, too. "Let's follow them," one of the men said. The others agreed, and so they carried their eagle feather ropes out to the fields, and they tossed the rope into the sky. They, too, began to sing. Their rope folded over a cloud and hung down, and the men climbed upon the ends and soon they, too, were rising into the sky.

When the people of the village saw the men rising, they cried, "No, don't leave, come back!" But like their wives, the men just sang louder and rose higher, and when the wives heard the commotion below, they looked down and saw their husbands rising after them. "Look, it's our husbands," one of the women said. "What should we do?" "They sent us away, we'll be happier without them!" said the eldest wife. And so as the men drew closer, the wives called, "Stop!" and the rope carrying the husbands stopped rising. Forever after, the husbands stayed right where they were, while the wives who loved onions rose higher.

Since that time, the wives and husbands have lived in Sky Country. The women turned into the seven stars of the Pleiades - the faintest star is the little girl. Their husbands stayed just behind them in another constellation, this one called Taurus.

Sources:, Stewart, Williamson p. 9
The Wild Onion Wifes


The Navajo call the Pleiades Dilyéhé, meaning "Pinlike Sparkles" or "Planting Stars."

Dilyéhé is a constellation of timekeeping and planting for the Navajo people. It is said "don’t let Dilyéhé see you plant your seeds." This comment refers to the Pleiades' disappearance in the western horizon in the evening in May and reappearance as the helical rise in the morning in the latter part of June or the first part of July.

If corn seeds are planted too early they will be destroyed in a late frost. If they are planted too late, the corn will not ripen before the first frost of autumn. Thus the seasonal cycle of Pleiades was of vital importance.

Dilyéhé © Melvin Bainbridge

A number of other stories relate to the Pleiades as seven children or young men.
One story tells of seven mischievous young boys who follow the ones who plant too late and snatch the seeds out of the ground. Another story refers to a group of boys followed by a woman with a buckskin slung over her back. When the group goes over a hill, they are no longer seen in the night sky. This is when the Pleiades disappear in early May.

Yet Another story talks of the Béésh Ashiké, the Hard Flint Boys - young warriors who are also healers in one of the traditional cultural summer ceremonies. Other stories refer to the stars as a family: grandparents, parents, kids, and grandchil-dren, representative of the seeds of generations and regeneration. Incorporated in these stories are principles and values of traditional child rearing.

Béésh Ashiké © Melvin Bainbridge

It is also said that when some of the Holy People were coming to this world by a rainbow, these were children that were too busy playing and got left in the sky. These children represent youth.

Sources: Navajo Skies,, Navajo Constellations

In the Navajo creation story, Dilyéhé was the first constellation placed in the sky by Haashch’éshzhiní, Black God.

When Black God entered the hogan of creation, the Pleiades were on his ankle; he stamped his foot and they moved to his knee, then to his ankle, then to his shoulder, and finally to his left temple.

Sources: Wikipedia, Teresa M. Schulz: Mask of the Black God

Haashch’éshzhiní © Melvin Bainbridge

Nez Perce

The Nez Perce of the Columbia River Plateau tell a tale that to some extend mirrors the ancient Greek myths about Merope, the faiding Pleiade.

In the Nez Perce version the Pleiades are also a group of sisters. One sister falls in love with a man and, following his death, is so absorbed by her own grief that she tells her sisters about him. They mock her and tell her how silly it is of her to feel sad for the human after his death, and she in return keeps her growing sadness to herself, eventually becoming so ashamed and miserable about her own feelings that she pulls the sky over her face like a veil, blocking herself from view.

This explains why there are six bright stars and one faint one.

Source: Wikipedia

Nez Perce Sisters
© Roger Cooke

The Onondaga, one of the five constituent nations of the Iroquois Confederacy in northeast North America tell the story of the Bright Shining old Man.

When the people made their winter camp at a place they called Beautiful Lake, there were eight children that got tired of their daily chores. Instead, they ammused themselves dancing at a secret spot. Even when they got hungry and lightheaded, they kept dancing.

One day, an old man appeared to the kids. He shone like silver in the late autumn sunshine and was covered from head to toe with a cloak of brilliant white feathers. He warned the children not to keep on dancing or something terrible will happen. But the children did not listen.

One day, they danced so long and got so lightheaded, that they started rising up into the sky, without noticing. An old woman in the village noticed it and started calling them. Soon the whole village called, but only one little boy noticed his father's call and, trying to return, became a falling star. The other seven children became Oot-kwa-tah in the sky.

Source: Stewart, Williamson p. 4

Onondaga story teller re-enacting
the "Bright Shining old Man."
Source: Daily Gazette


The Pawnee observed the night sky through the smoke holes of their earth lodges. In late February, when they could no longer see the stars through the hole, it was time to prepare the fields.

When the stars appeared again before dawn (in mid-September), it was time for harvest.

To the Pawnee, the Pleiades were six brothers who saved a young woman, who became The Seventh Star.

Earth lodge with smoke hole
© Karl Bodmer
One day a woman got abducted by a rolling skull, who carried her away from her village. Only when RollingSkull fell asleep, she was able to run away from him. Not knowing where to go, she just ran, until she was discovered by six brothers who called her Little Beautiful One and invited her to live with them.

RollingSkull kept searching for her and one day he found her. But the brothers fought back and escaped with Little Beautiful One into sky country. There she is, the faintest visible star of the Pleiades, three brothers to her left and three brothers to her right.

The Pawnee had a song for the Pleiades:

Look as they rise, up, rise
Over the line where the sky meets the earth.
Seven stars!
Lokk! They are assending, coming to guide us,
Leading us safely, keeping us one.
Seven stars,
Teach us to be like you, united.

Source: Stewart, Williamson p. 55
The Seven Sisters


The Seri people of northwestern Mexico see the Pleiades as seven women giving birth. Nearby Aldebaran privides light for them.

Source: >Wikipedia


For many California Native nations, coyote represents the trickster, always getting others or himself into trouble. This rather bloody story of Coyote and the Seven Sisters ends with one young coyote becoming a star.

One day, after a tribal dance, Coyote and Raccoon spotted Squirrel’s hole. Not only that, but they spotted a secret back door. They conspired together: after all, Squirrel would make for a grand feast. They decided that Raccoon would come through the front, while Coyote, always sly, would paw his way through the secret door, barring Squirrel’s only escape. Raccoon was the first to grab Squirrel. Squirrel begged for his life, and the life of his children. Raccoon was not often moved to mercy; however, as the tears welled up in Squirrel’s eyes, he decided to release him. Squirrel wasted no time in scampering over Raccoon’s back, away from Coyote’s paws, which had broken through the escape door. Raccoon turned around to see that Squirrel was safe; as he did, Coyote grabbed his arm. "Ouch! Damn it, Coyote, it’s me!" But Coyote was unable, or unwilling, to listen. He dug his claws deep into Raccoon’s forearm, and pulled, and pulled. And pulled again. And then, Coyote, with all his force, yanked out his prize. He did not find Squirrel in his paw. Instead, he held the severed arm of his friend, Raccoon. Coyote the Trickster
© Kyoht Luterman
By the time he went to other side of the tree, Raccoon had bled to death. It’s possible that Coyote grieved for a moment. Still, Coyote was never one to let a good meal go to waste…

And so, he brought home dinner. And it was a feast!

Yes, it was a grand Raccoon feast! Well, for most of Coyote’s family, that is. Apparently, all of Coyote’s children came to the great meal, and everyone was well-served. Everyone, except Little Coyote, the youngest of the litter. Poor Little Coyote didn’t receive a morsel of flesh. Not a scrap of skin. Not a shaving of bone. Not even a hint of marrow. By time his elders had sated their bellies, Little Coyote was left with nothing, besides a general hunger in his belly and a distinct thirst for revenge in his heart.

Little Coyote went to the home of his father’s dead friend, Raccoon. There, he found Raccoon’s seven daughters. He told them his truth: "My father has betrayed yours; he has killed him, and dined on his flesh. What will you do?" The Raccoon sisters thanked Little Coyote, and told him to wait until the next night, promising him that whatever vengeance they extracted, he would be spared.

That evening, Coyote went on the hunt, knowing that his children were safe at home. As he lurked for prey, the Raccoon sisters snuck into his home. If the Coyotes had been awake, the Raccoons would have faced a fight; but no, they were sleeping. One by one, they brutally murdered Coyote’s children. All, save one: Little Coyote.

When Coyote returned home and found the carnage, he bolted to Raccoon’s home in a blind fury, ready to shred the sisters to pieces. He broke down the door, and found all seven of Raccoon’s daughters. All seven, plus one: His own son, Little Coyote. "Traitor!" he screamed as lunged at all of them, but most fiercely at his own child. But before he could pounce on them, they floated out of a window…

Out a window, and up into the heavens. And if you look up, depending on the season, you can still see them. The Seven Sisters, and besides them, if your vision is still young and clear…

An eighth, dim star. - And that star is Little Coyote.

Source: Stewart, Williamson p. 7,


The Tapirapé in the Amazon rain forest set the times for their rain season ceremonies by the movement of the Pleiades. The disappearance of the cluster signals the end of the rainy season.

Source: Stewart, Williamson p. 2


The Zuñi in what is now New Mexico simply called the Pleiades "the Seeds." Harvesting season began, when the Pleiades appeared in the evening sky.

Source: Stewart, Williamson p. 2

Zuni Corn Maiden
© Jane Thorpe

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