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Ursa Major


Ursa Major is the most prominent constellation in the in the northern celestial hemisphere.
It is one of the 48 original Ptolemaic Constellations.

In Mesopotamia, ancient Egypt and in many early European cultures, the asterism now known as the Big Dipper was seen as some kind of wagon or chariot.

The visualization of the constellation as a bear is rooted in Greek mythology as well as in the sacred canonical texts of Hinduism known as the Vedas. However, picturing the stars of Ursa Major as a bear or another large animal goes back even farther, at least 15,000 years to the tale of the Cosmic Hunt, a story that accompanied human migration from Siberia to America.

In other cultures, Ursa Major and the Big Dipper were visualized as many other things, ranging from plows and saucepans to crustaceans and canoes.

Below, we have sorted the many stories by geographical region and/or time period. Below the tables, you find a short version of the Cosmic Hunt.



Middle East
and Asia

North America

Modern Day

Cosmic Hunt

Ancient Mesopotamia

Ancient Egypt

Ancient Greece

Ancient Rome

Celtic Mythology

Nordic Mythology

Medieval Germany




Slavik Languages

Baltic Mythology

Bible References

Islamic Astronomy







Malaysia & Indonesia







Coeur d'Alene













Ed White's Star

Art & Fiction

Modern Day Applications

Flags and other National Symbols

Oral Tradition of the Cosmic Hunt

According to Wikipedia, the Cosmic Hunt "... is an old and widely distributed family of cognate myths. They are stories about a large animal that is pursued by hunters, is wounded, and is transformed into a constellation. Variants of the Cosmic Hunt are common in cultures of Northern Eurasia and the Americas ... The original prototype of the myth must have been invented at least 15,000 years ago for it to have diffused across the Bering land bridge."

The tale is inspired by the fact that in northern latitudes, the constellation is visible throughout the entire year, circling the celestial north pole, resembling an animal that is on its feet for some time of the year and laying on its back during other parts of the year.

There are numerous versions of the Cosmic Hunt, involving either a bear or another big animal such as an elk. Some versions involve a dog and some versions expand from Ursa Major into other constellations.

For detailed descriptions, we suggest the works of Enn Ernits and Yuri Berezkin who both extensively researched oral tales and rock art throughout Siberia and North America.

Sources: Enn Ernits: On the Cosmic Hunt in North Eurasian Rock Art,
Yuri Berezkin: The Cosmic Hunt: Variants of a Siberian – North-American Myth,

Late Stone Age ocher rock drawing of a hunting
scene at the Maia River in Central Siberia
Source: Okladnikov & Mazin, 1979

Distribution of the Cosmic Hunt Tale
according to Yuri Berezkin

A star name registry website published an interesting condensed version of the hunting scene.

We wish to point out that we are not affiliated with this particular site and do not wish to advertise the business of star registry. However, the story published here is the best written short version of the hunting scene we have found so far:

Long ago, a party of seven hunters were roaming across the wilderness when they spotted the mightiest bear that they had ever seen. The hunters gave chase to the bear, pursuing it throughout the summer months. When Autumn came the bear had reached the end of the world where the land meets the sky; in desperation it leaped off the edge and fled into the night sky, hoping the hunters dare not follow.

Four of the seven hunters wouldn’t dare go farther and decided to retreat to their villages. Yet three of the hunters dared to follow the bear, and as he did, leaped off the edge and into the night sky.

Seeing that the hunters had indeed followed him, the bear galloped on all fours at the quickest pace he could muster. Seeing an opportunity, the hunters came in as close as they dared and struck the bear in his belly with an arrow.

Blood spluttered from the bear as it continued to rush away; and as it did so its blood dripped down from the heavens and stained the fallen leaves of autumn a crimson red. The hunters kept their chase, certain they would be feasting upon him, being injured as he was.

As autumn turned into winter, the bear had but one move left. Finally, it allowed the hunters to catch up with it. It stopped running and lay down lightly closing his eyes. The hunters caught up and saw the bear eyes close and laying down. Dead or sleeping, the hunters believed their hunt was a success and quickly approached without looking ahead.

Suddenly, the hunters lost their footing and clumsily fell to the floor. It was a trap; the bear had cast a net below their feet. Trapped, the hunters could only watch in horror as the bear stood on its hind legs, just as a man would. The bear then began to ascend into the sky, dragging the trapped hunters in its wake through all of winter and spring. But, when summer came again the hunters escaped from the net and chased the bear once more.


The Great Bear Hunt;

Hunting scene in rock art near Malyshevo, Russia
Source: Siberian Times

Oral Tradition of the Seven Men

There is another interpretation of the Big Dipper, originating in western Siberia. In most versions it involves seven men (in most cases brothers), in some versions (including Alcor) it involves seven men and a woman.

The myth can be traced all across Siberia and as far as India, Mongolia and Korea. It has parallels in several myths of the Plains Indians in North America.

Source: Yuri Berezkin: Seven Brothers and the Cosmic Hunt

Distribution of the Myth of the Seven Men
according to Yuri Berezkin

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