Skywise Unlimited

American Indian Starlore
                        and other stories about the sky


Boy & the Sun Grizzly Sisters Six Wives
Walks All Over The Sky Three Legged Rabbit Bear & Hunters
Maui's Hook Spider God Grizzly Bear
Elk Skin Coyote's Eyeball Two Dogs
Stealing Sun & Moon Sun & Daughter Spider & Sun
Canoe Race Brother Snares Sun Fox & Moon
Raven & Sun The Fifth World Coyote, Wolves, Bears/
Evening & Morning The Lost Children Coyote as the Moon
Changing Woman Nanuk the Bear Fisher & Skyland

They came to a round hole in the sky, burning like fire. "This" said the Raven, "is a star" - Inuit Creation Story Painting by Alicia Austin
 
click to enlarge
Painting by Richard Hook
Canoe Race     Orion   Milky Way   Sirius
Chinook Tribe
Columbia River, Washington, Oregon

A big canoe (Orion's belt) and a small canoe (Orion's dagger) are in a race to see who can be the first to catch a salmon in the Big River (Milky Way). The little canoe is winning the race. Can you tell which star is the fish? It is the very bright star in the middle of the river (Sirius).


Chinook and Canoe
 
Musquakie Elder Bear and Three Hunters     Big Dipper
Musquakie, Iroquois Tribes
East Coast, Great Lakes

The bowl stars of the Big Dipper form a bear. The stars of the Dipper's handle are hunters. The tiny star near the elbow of the handle is a small dog named "Hold Tight." In autumn, when the Dipper is low to the horizon, the blood from the bear's arrow wounds drips on the trees and turns them red and brown.

 
Maori Chief Atama Rarawa Maui's Hook     Scorpius
Maori Tribe
New Zealand

Maui was a powerful god but a poor fisherman. He snagged his hook (Scorpius) and line on the bottom of the sea and thought he had hooked a big fish. He pulled hard and pulled up the North Island of New Zealand, Te ika a Maui - The fish of Maui.

 
Blackfoot Couple with Horse and Travois Spider God     Corona Borealis   Hercules   Milky Way
Blackfoot Tribe
Alberta, Montana, Idaho

The Spider God (Corona Borealis) sits in his web (Hercules) and watches over the land. Sometime he climbs down the summer Milky Way to visit the Earth.

 
Grizzly Bear     Cygnus   Milky Way
Shoshone Tribe
Wyoming, Southern Idaho

Shoshone Village
A grizzly bear (Cygnus) climbed up a tall mountain to go hunting in the sky. As he climbed, snow and ice clung to the fur of his feet and legs. Crossing the sky the ice crystals trailed behind him forming the Milky Way.

 
Yakima Woman Elk Skin     Cassiopeia
Yakima Tribe
Central Washington

A Hunter killed a great elk and stretched the skin to dry by driving wooden stakes through it. Afterwards he threw the skin into the sky (Cassiopeia) where the light above shines through the stake holes forming stars.

 
Lummi Woman Coyote's Eyeball     Arcturus
Lummi Tribe
Pacific Northwest Coast

The Coyote liked to take out his eyeballs and juggle them to impress the girls. One day as he was juggling them he threw one so high it stuck in the sky (Arcturus).

 
Sequoyah, inventor of the Cherokee written language Two Dogs     Canis Major   Milky Way
Cherokee Tribe
Tennesee, Carolinas

There are two dogs (alpha and beta Canis Majori) who guard the path (Milky Way) to the land of souls. To get past the dogs one should bring food. Be warned, if you give food to the first dog (alpha) he will let you pass, but if you fail to save some food for the second dog (beta) you will be trapped between them forever.

 
Paiute Girl with Doll Grizzly Sisters     Aries   Pleiades
Sierra, Paiute Tribes
California

Grizzly sisters (Aries) use to play with Deer sisters (Pleiades) in a cave. One day Grizzly mother ate Deer mother. Deer sisters retaliated by trapping Grizzly sisters in the cave.

 
click to enlarge
Painting by Richard Hook
Six Wives     Pleiades   Hyades
Western Mono Tribe
Central California

Six wives (Pleiades cluster) were hiking in the woods and discovered some wild onions. They ate the onions which gave them skunk breath. Their Husbands (Hyades cluster) threw them out of their huts. When the wives went up into the sky to live, the lonely husbands eventually followed but never catch up to them.

Mono Wikiup and Baskets
 
Tsimshian Drummer Walks All Over the Sky     Sun   Moon   Stars
Tsimshian Tribe
Pacific Northwest Coast

Back when the sky was completely dark there was a chief with two sons, a younger son, One Who Walks All Over the Sky, and an older son, Walking About Early. The younger son was sad to see the sky always so dark so he made a mask out of wood and pitch (the Sun) and lit it on fire. Each day he travels across the sky. At night he sleeps below the horizon and when he snores sparks fly from the mask and make the stars. The older brother became jealous. To impress their father he smeared fat and charcoal on his face (the Moon) and makes his own path across the sky.

 
Crow Mother and Child Three Legged Rabbit     Sun   Moon   Stars
Western Rocky, Crow Tribes
Rocky Mountains

A three legged rabbit made himself a fourth leg from wood. The rabbit thought the Sun was too hot for comfort so he went to see what could be done. He went east at night to the place where the Sun would rise. When the Sun was half way up the Rabbit shot it with an arrow. As the Sun lay wounded on the ground the Rabbit took the white of the Suns eyes and made the clouds. He made the black part of the eyes into the sky, the kidneys into stars, and the liver into the Moon, and the heart into the night. "There!" said the Rabbit, "You will never be too hot again."

 
Coyote and Eagle Steal the Sun and Moon     Sun   Moon
Haida Spirit Box Zuni Tribe
Southwest, Arizona, New Mexico

Back when it was always dark, it was also always summer. Coyote and Eagle went hunting. Coyote was a poor hunter because of the dark. They came to the Kachinas, a powerful people. The Kachinas had the Sun and Zuni Woman the Moon in a box. After the people had gone to sleep the two animals stole the box. At first Eagle carried the box but Coyote convinced his friend to let him carry it. The curious Coyote opened the box and the Sun and Moon escaped and flew up to the sky. This gave light to the land but it also took away much of the heat, thus we now have winter.

 
The Boy and the Sun     Sun   Moon   Milky Way   Meteor
Hopi Tribe
Southwest, Arizona

click to enlarge
Painting by Richard Hook
A boy lived with his mother's mother and didn't know his father. His grandmother said to ask the Sun about it, surely the Sun would know. The boy made a flour of crushed tortoise shell, cornmeal, coral, and seashells. He threw the mix upwards and made a path into the sky (Milky Way). He climbed up and found the Sun. He asked "Who is my father?" The Sun replied, "You have much to learn." The boy fell to Earth. He made a box from cottonwood and sealed himself in it as it floated west down a river. The box washed ashore where two rivers join. He was freed from the box by a young female rattlesnake. Hopi Woman and Child Together they traveled west. They saw a meteor fall into the sea on its way to the Sun's house. They asked it for a ride. In this way they made it to the Sun's house. They met the Sun's mother (the Moon) who was working on a piece of turquoise. That evening when the Sun came home from his day's work, the boy asked again, "Who is my father?" And then the Sun replied "I think I am."

 
The Sun and Her Daughter     Sun   Moon
Cherokee Tribe
Tennesee, Carolinas

Cherokee Woman As the Sun traveled across the sky she would stop in the middle each day to have dinner at her daughter's house. Now the Sun hated people because they would always squint when they looked at her. "They screw up their faces at me!" she told her brother the Moon. "I like them," said the Moon, "they always smile at me." They Sun was jealous and decided she would kill the people by sending a fever. Many people were dying and those remaining decided they would have to kill the Sun. With some magic, one of the people was turned into a rattlesnake and sent to wait by the daughter's door, to bite the Sun when she stopped for dinner. But when the daughter opened the door to look for her mother the snake bit her instead. The snake returned to Earth with the Sun still alive and the daughter dead. When the Sun discovered what had happened she shut herself up in the house and grieved. The people no longer had the fever but now it was cold and dark. So, seven people were chosen to visit the land where ghosts dance to see if they could retrieve the daughter. As she danced past them they struck her with rods so she fell down, then they trapped her in a box. On the trip home she complained of not being able to breath so they opened the lid just a crack. She became a redbird and escaped, flying back to the land of ghosts. Seeing the seven people return empty handed, the Sun began to cry. This caused a great flood. To amuse the Sun and stop the flood, the people danced. This is why the people do the Sun dance to this very day.

 
Spider and the Sun     Sun   Milky Way
Cherokee Tribe
Tennesee, Carolinas

Cherokee Basket In the beginning there was only darkness and people kept bumping into each other. Fox said that people on the other side of the world had plenty of light but were too greedy to share it. Possum went over there to steal a little piece of the light. He found the Sun hanging in a tree, lighting everything up. He took a tiny piece of the Sun and hid it in the fur of his tail. The heat burned the fur off his tail. That is why possums have bald tails. Buzzard tried next. He tried to hide a piece in the feathers of his head. That is why buzzards have bald heads. Grandmother Spider tried next. She made a clay bowl. Then she spun a web (Milky Way) across the sky reaching to the other side of the world. She snatched up the whole sun in the clay bowl and took it back home to our side of the world.

 
Little Brother Snares the Sun     Sun
Winnebago Tribe
Great Lakes, Michigan

Red Bird, a Winnebago with a Calumet In the old days people were not the chiefs and did not hunt animals. Animals were the chiefs and hunted people. They killed all the people except one girl and her little brother who hid in a cave. The boy learned to kill snowbirds with a bow and arrow and made a robe from the feathers. They made soup from the bodies of the birds and that was the first time people ate meat. The bright sunlight eventually ruined the robe and the boy swore revenge. His sister helped him fashion a snare. He traveled to the hole in the ground where the Sun rises every morning. As the Sun rose he snared it and tied it up so that there was no light or warmth that day. The animals were afraid and amazed by the boy. They sent the biggest and most fearsome animal to try and free the sun. This was the dormouse which in those days was as big as a mountain. The mouse chewed through the snare freeing the sun but meanwhile the intense heat shrunk him down to his present size. Since that time the people have been the chiefs and the hunters.

 
The Fifth World     Sun   Earth
Toltec Tribe
Central America

Five worlds and five suns were created, one after the other. The first world was destroyed because it's people acted wrongfully. They were eaten by ocelots and the sun destroyed. The second sun saw it's people turned into monkeys due to lack of wisdom. The third sun had it's world destroyed by fire, earthquakes, and volcanoes because the people didn't make sacrifices to the gods. The fourth world perished in a flood which also drowned its sun. Before creating the fifth world, our world, the gods met in the darkness to see who would have the honor of igniting the fifth sun. Tecciztecatl volunteered. The gods built a big fire on top of a pyramid and the volunteer prepared to throw himself into the flames. He was dressed in beautiful hummingbird feathers, with gold and turquoise. Four times he tried to force himself into the suicidal fire but each time his fear drove him back. Then the lowliest of all the gods, Nanautzin, dressed in humble reeds, threw himself into the fire. Teccitztecatl was so ashamed that he too jumped into the fire. The new sun rose into the sky giving light to the fifth world.

Toltec Pyramid
 
Fox and the Moon     Moon
Snoqualmie Tribe
Washington State

Long ago, Snoqualm (Man in the Moon), had a spider make him a rope out of cedar bark and stretch it from the sky to the Earth. One day Fox and Blue Jay found the rope and climbed up to where the rope was fixed to the underside of the sky. Blue Jay pecked a hole in the sky and they climbed through to the sky world. Blue Jay flew to a tree while Fox changed himself into Beaver and swam in a lake. Snoqualm had set a trap in the lake which caught Beaver. Snoqualm skinned him and threw the body in the corner of the smokehouse. That night when Snoqualm was asleep Beaver got up and put his skin back on. He looked around. He took a few of the trees, and the
Mt. Si, photo by BP Snowder
Mt. Si, photo by BP Snowder
Snoqualm's daylight making tools, some fire, and the Sun which was hidden in Snoqualm's house. He changed back into Fox then he found the hole that Blue Jay had made and took the things to Earth. He planted the trees, made daylight, gave the fire to the people, and put the Sun in it's place. When Snoqualm awoke he was very angry. He found the tracks that led to the hole. He started down but the rope broke and he fell to the Earth in a heap where he became a mountain. One can see the face of Snoqualm on one of the rocky cliffs. Today the mountain is called Mount Si and it is near the cities of Snoqualmie and Northbend in Washington State.

 
Raven and the Sun     Sun
Tsimshian Tribe
Pacific Northwest Coast
click to enlarge
Painting by Richard Hook

Once the sky had no day. When the sky was clear there was some light from the stars but when it was cloudy it was very dark. Raven had put fish in the rivers and fruit trees in the land but he was saddened by the darkness. The Sun at that time was kept in a box by a chief in the sky. Tsimshian Bear The Raven came to a hole in the sky and went through. He came to a spring where the chief's daughter would fetch water. He changed himself into a cedar seed and floated on the water. When the girl drank from the spring she swallowed the seed without noticing, and became pregnant. A boy child was born which was really Raven. As a toddler he begged to play with the yellow ball that grandfather kept in a box. He was allowed to play with the Sun and when the chief looked away he turned back into Raven and flew back through the hole in the sky, bringing the sun to our world.

 
Coyote, Wolves, and Bears     Big Dipper
Wasco Tribe
Columbia River, Washington, Oregon

Wasco Women Once there were five wolves who would share meat with Coyote. One night the wolves were staring at the sky. "What are you looking at?" asked Coyote. "There are two animals up there." they told him. "But we can't get to them." "That is easy." said Coyote. He took his bow and shot an arrow into the sky where it stuck. He shot another arrow which stuck into the first. Then he shot another and another until the chain of arrow reached the ground. The five wolves and Coyote climbed the arrows into the sky. The oldest wolf took along his dog. When they reached the sky they could see that the animals were grizzly bears. The wolves went near the bears and sat there looking at them and the bears looked back. Coyote thought they looked good sitting there so he left them and removed his arrow ladder. The three stars of the handle of the Big Dipper and the two stars of the bowl near the handle are the wolves. The two stars on the front of the bowl are the bears. The tiny star by the wolf in the middle of the handle is the dog.

 
Morning Star Wins Evening Star     Venus   Sirius   Auriga   Sagittarius   Procyon   Scorpius
Skidi Pawnee Tribe
Great Plains, Kansas, Nebraska

In the beginning there was only Tirawahat, which is the Universe and Skidi Pawnee Star Map everything in it. Morning Star (Venus) and the Sun and the other males in sky were in favor of creating the world but Evening Star (Venus) and the Moon and the other females were against it. To win the debate it was clear that Morning Star would have to win the heart of Evening Star. Many had tried and failed, she was guarded by Wolf (Sirius), Cougar (Auriga), Bear (Sagittarius), Bobcat (Procyon), and worst of all, Snake (Scorpius). One by one Morning Star defeated them and won the hand of Evening Star. And so the world was created.

 
The Lost Children     Pleiades
Blackfoot Tribe
Northern Plains, North Dakota, Montana

There were once six young brothers who were orphans. They lived from handouts and wore castaway clothing. No one cared much about them except the camp's pack of dogs. They loved the dogs and played with them every day. People were unkind to the boys because of their ragged clothes and uncombed hair. The brothers were teased by the other children who wore fine buffalo robes. The boys no longer wanted to be people. They considered becoming flowers but the buffalo might eat them. Stones? No, stones could be broken. Water could Indian Dog and Travois be drank, trees could be cut and burned. They decided they wanted to be stars. Stars are always beautiful and always safe. Up went the boys to the sky to become stars (Pleiades). The Sun welcomed the boys and the Moon called them her lost children. Then the Sun punished the people with a drought. Meanwhile the people heard the dogs howling at the sky. The dogs missed the boys. Finally the dog cheif asked the Sun for pity because drought hurts all creatures. Then the rains came.

 
Coyote and the Moon     Moon
Kalispel Tribe
Idaho

Kalispel Girl Once there was no Moon for someone had stolen it. The people asked "Who will be the Moon?" The Yellow Fox agreed to give it a try but he was so bright it made the Earth hot at night. Then the people asked Coyote to try and he agreed. The Coyote was a good moon, not to bright - not to dim. But from his vantage point in the sky the Coyote could see what everyone was doing. Whenever he saw someone doing something dishonest he would shout "HEY! That person is stealing meat from the drying racks!" or "HEY! That person is cheating at the moccasin game!" Finally, the people who wished to do things in secret got together and said "Coyote is too noisy. Let's take him out of the sky." So someone else became the moon. Coyote can no longer see what everyone else is doing but he still tries to snoop into everyone else's business.

 
Fisher Goes to Skyland     Big Dipper
Anishinaabe Tribe
Great Lakes

Fisher was a small animal but a great hunter. Hunting was difficult in those days because it was always winter. "Come with me." he told his friends, "We will go where the Earth is closest to Skyland. The Skyland is always warm and we will bring some of the warmth down to Earth." The Otter, Lynx and Wolverine traveled with Fisher up the mountains, closer and closer to Skyland. When they were very close Fisher said "We must jump up and break through to the land above the Anishinaabe Basket sky." The Otter jumped up and bumped his head on the sky. He fell on his back and slid all the way down the mountain. Lynx jumped up and bumped so hard it knocked him unconscious. Wolverine jumped up and bumped hard against the sky. He jumped again and again until the sky cracked a little. He jumped again and broke through. Fisher jumped through after him. They found Skyland to be a beautiful place, full of warmth and plants and flowers. They found cages full of birds which they released. The birds flew through the crack in the sky to the world below. The warmth of Skyland began to flow to the Earth and melt the snow. The Sky-People came out of the lodges and said "Thieves! They are taking our warm weather!" Wolverine escaped back through the crack but Fisher started working to make the crack bigger. He knew that if it were too small the Sky-People might be able to patch it. The Sky-People began chasing him and shooting arrows. Athough he was powerful, they eventually hit a fatal spot. The great Gitchee Manitou took pity on poor Fisher because he had tried to help his friends. He healed him and placed him in the sky (Big Dipper). Each autumn as Fisher is falling towards Earth the Sky-People try to patch the crack and Winter comes. Then in spring Fisher climbs back high in the sky and reopens the crack and Summer comes.

 
Inuit Woman and Child Nanuk the Bear     Pleiades
Inuit Tribe
Arctic, Subarctic

Nanuk the Bear was attacked by a pack of large fierce dogs. he tried to escape by running away over the ice, but the dogs followed close behind. For many hours the dogs chased Nanuk and he could not lose them. Eventually, they had came to the very edge of the world, but neither Nanuk or the dogs noticed. Suddenly they all fell off the edge into the sky, where they all turned into stars (Pleiades).

 
Apache Woman Changing Woman     Sun   Earth
Apache Tribe
Southern Plains

Changing Woman lived alone without a husband. One day she climbed up on a hill and build a wickiup with four poles. She faced the door to the east so the first rays of the sun would enter the lodge in the morning. As she lay inside, the sun came up and saw her, and she saw him as a young man. "Who are you" she asked. "You see me all the time." He said. "It is I that takes care of all things, whatever there is on Earth. I am the sun's inner form." That day they made a boy child together and Changing Woman called him Nayé nazgháné (The Slayer of Monsters). Four days later she was bathing and the young man appeared in the water. They made another child that day, a twin to the first, which she named Túbaadeschine (Born of the Water-Old-Man). There are many stories of the adventures of the two boys, as they made the Earth a safer place for future generations.

Skywise Unlimited
This collection assembled by Brad Snowder.