Cultural Astronomy

Fall - Version 2

Annette S. Lee, assistant professor of astronomy and physics at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, created the oil and mixed media “Fall Stars” to represent two major autumn constellations—Moose for the Ojibwe and Turtle for the Dakota/Lakota. (Courtesy Annette S. Lee)

Even though a sprinkling of snow fell just this Thursday in northern Minnesota, any arrows shot earlier at Wintermaker apparently have hastened his final departure from the sky. But the rise in the night of Curly Tail, the Great Panther of spring, could bring the threat of floods and dangerous, uncertain travel.

Long before Europeans brought over their Greek monikers for the constellations, Native cultures already had named their sky people. And those faraway relatives helped them to understand their world and how to survive in it.

For the Ojibwe, the constellations of Mooz (Moose), Biboonikeonini (Wintermaker), Mishi Bizhiw (the Great Panther) and Nanaboujou (the original man of Anishinaabe narratives), heralded the arrival of fall, winter, spring and summer.

More on star maps and skywatchers here.


  1. says

    When I saw the title, I thought “Is this something like evolutionary psychology?”

    It’s no surprise that First Nations and other people around the world were doing this. Europeans said “capricorn” and the Egyptians said “Osiris”, so why wouldn’t other people attribute the coming of winter to the same constellation? We’re not pigs, our necks are flexible enough to look upward at night.

  2. says


    We’re not pigs, our necks are flexible enough to look upward at night.

    Yep. There’s a great deal of star stuff in origin stories of various indigenous peoples. Lakota cosmology is most beautiful, I think, and I often think of Lakota, well, they aren’t deities, but I don’t know how to translate, beings when star gazing.

  3. says

    Well, no. There are gods, but mostly spirits. Inyan (Rock) is a god, a creator god, but not the Great Mystery. In Oglala Lakota cosmology, it’s held that our ancestors are star people, and that we continue to share an analogous relationship with them, and it’s why we are tied to certain areas of land, which are of prime importance to us.

    Anyway, gods work differently in most indigenous belief. They don’t have any similarity to western god concepts or worship. With Lakota and much of other indigenous cosmology, everything is one -- you can’t be disconnecting anything. Western thought and belief seems to be seriously dependent on disconnection.

    Anyway, there is a list of gods and spirits you can peruse. (Normally, I’d send you to One Lone Wolf, but some asshole got him kicked off his net provider, and no one will tell him why. He’s retiring now, and can’t rebuild the lodge, it was the effort of years on end, and over 800 pages of Oglala Lakota history and tradition.)

  4. cubist says

    If you still have the URL to One Lone Wolf’s ex-website, try feeding said URL to the Internet Archive. With any luck, the Archive will have preserved OLW’s work… several times over.

  5. cubist says

    Sweet! Hmm… if you haven’t done so already, perhaps you might want to pass the word along to One Lone Wolf? Or not. Depends on whether OLW would welcome the thought of retrieving (some of) his work from the great bit-bucket in the sky, or they’re so irritated they’d rather not hear about it any more, or what.

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