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The Pleiades

By Edited May 2, 2016 1 3

 

Pleiades

The Pleiades myth is really the Pleiades mythology that ranges from prehistory times. The star lore has been known since antiquity to cultures from all over the earth. Homer mentioned them in 750 B.C. in The Iliad and Odyssey, and the Greek poet Hesiod also mentioned them around the same time. The bible has mention of them in Job 9:9, Job 38:31, and Amos 5:8. Even the Japanese have named them as “Subaru,” (before the car was named). The Greek word is derived from “to sail” or pleios meaning “full” or “many.”  The bright bunch of stars are located in the Taurus constellation. Seven of the brightest stars are named (from Greek mythology); Sterope, Merope, Electra, Maia, Taygete, Celaeno, and Alcyone.

Native Americans believe that all of the natural world, all that exists, has spirit. The integration of the celestial and spiritual is evident in the everyday values taught through the mythology. It all influences daily life. For instance, a bear hunter who killed a bear would naturally thank the bear’s spirit so it would return. Before removing sage for tea or whatever, it is proper to ask permission, and give thanks. All this had to do with power, which they didn’t see as dominance. Instead it was the ability to call on spirit guides, have visions, and practice through song and prayer. The stars are markers for rituals, and they signal the arrival and end of seasons.

The Hopi carefully track the Pleiades and Orion to know when to begin the  winter solstice ceremony. The easily recognizable star cluster is used for a calendar of naturally occurring events. The Tapirape Indians of the Amazon hold ceremonies during the rainy time via the progression of the Pleiades, and when the stars disappear, the Indians know the rainy season will end. During early spring the stars were watched before they disappeared in the sunsets to know when to plant. When the Pleiades reappeared in mid-June (early dawn), the signal was given to plant. The New Mexico Zuni tribe calls them the Seed Stars because they resemble a heap of seeds. Planting, harvesting, and hunting were done according to the appearance and disappearance of constellations.

Seven Sisters
Indeed, the Seven Sisters constellation is a common name for the Pleiades in Native American sky lore as well. Most tribes had a name for the Pleiades. Some that I have read about are; 7 Brothers, 7 Sisters, Herd of Caribou, 7 Brothers in a Boat, Crying Children, Cluster, Children Who Announce Dawn, Bunch of Stars (put up by Coyote), Coyote’s Daughters, Coyote’s Family, Many Little Stars, Three Little Girls and Their Jewels, Eight Wise Men, and Hearts of the First People. Notice the discrepancy in the numbers of stars. Seven is the most common, and it does stand for the 7 directions - south, west, north, east, up, down, and center. Some saw them as six stars because the seventh had grown dim. Some saw them as 8 kids dancing in the sky on air heading upwards when a father calls to one of them. He looks down and becomes a falling star, leaving seven behind. They are visible all night during the winter.

Papago, Pima Indian Myth
One legend from the Papago and Pima Indians (southwest desert people) about the Pleiades is that of Homeless Women. There was a beautiful ceremony for young women when they reached puberty. Lovely singing and dancing was enjoyed by the tribe. One time there were some young women who enjoyed it so much that they celebrated continuously, wandering the countryside without a home. They asked a woman of power to help them. She did so by turning them to stone and tossing them into the sky to become the Pleiades (Homeless Women). This was an example for the people to know that it is okay to celebrate, but not endlessly.

Cherokee Myth
Another Pleiades story is from the Cherokee people. The Pleiades are held in high esteem because they are believed to command grater power than other stars in that they influence weather and crops. Here is  a retelling of the story.

Seven Cherokee boys enjoyed practicing shooting arrows at a bundle of corn cobs. They used their bows to shoot up all their arrows, then pulled the arrows , and moved the target farther on so they continued their practice. Soon the boys mothers told them to practice elsewhere if they insisted on shooting at things not fit to eat.

So, the boys moved around a hill until they weren’t visible to their mothers. They remained away for a too long period and their parents began to search for them. Ah! The boys were discovered dancing the Feather Dance to the sound of an ancient drum. As they danced, they lifted higher and higher off the ground.

The parents were frightened at this, so they used poles to try to reach the boys and knock them back to earth. The boys were unreachable - they kept dancing and uplifting higher and higher. The parents cried out for them to return but the boys said that they had found a place where they could shoot their arrows as much as they pleased.

Thus they became the Seven Stars of the Pleiades. A star for each day until one fell towards the earth, leaving a fiery trail behind it. The people gathered near the fallen star. It had become a man with a beard who told them of a flood to come. He stayed on earth for seven years, then left. His footprint was left on a rock. The stars are still called the Seven Stars, yet there are only six.

In summary, the Pleiades star cluster is legendary in a worldwide star lore culture. The wonderful thing is that each myth comes from the same stars and then go off on their own rich oral tradition. Fortunately the storytellers have had recorders to give us a glimpse of how people viewed the fabulous celestial lights. The oral tradition is now written, yet it, too came from the same source.

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Comments

Aug 7, 2011 9:23pm
dreamaker
Very cool article. All new and finally something interesting I havn't read about. Thanks Footloose, great article.
Aug 8, 2011 11:49am
footloose
Thanks for your comment. I write lots about the stars - astronomy. It's always new and ancient, too.
Aug 9, 2011 5:26am
Athena
Highly informative. I'm bookmarking this for my kids' lessons, too. Thanks
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Bibliography

  1. Dorcas S. Miller Stars of the First People. Boulder: Pruett Publishing Company, 1997.
  2. Jean Guard Monroe and Ray A. Williamson Native American Star Myths. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1987.

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