Thursday, December 27, 2012

Native American Skies: Pawnee Morning Star Ritual, Part 4

Skidi Pawnee Sacred Bundle
There is no “visible” Big Black Star in the night sky so why did the Pawnee name it “Black” Star?  There are numerous references where the Pawnee called the star “The Big Black Meteoric Star” or referenced a Sacred Bundle as “The Big Black Star Meteoric Bundle”.   Astronomer, Von Del Chamberlain, speculated that a meteorite may have fallen from the part of the sky near Vega (thought to be the Big Black Star).  Since meteorites are black soon after they hit the earth, the Pawnee may have taken it to be a message from the star.  Sacred Owlwolf posted a story on “nativeartsculture” which he credits his “great aunt Sini Rain Drops Caller” for telling him.  It is the story of “Osage Sky-Seeing” who saw a falling star one night and found it the next morning.   The meteorite spoke to him in his dreams and told him that it had come from “a star that stands in the heavens a little to the east, but south.”  Although, the meteorite that belonged to Osage Sky-Seeing is not the same one associated with Big Black Star, it illustrates how the Pawnee might have associated a meteorite as a messenger from a star and named it accordingly.

As discussed in Part 3, each Pawnee village had a “Sacred Bundle” that contained those things used for their ceremonies and rituals.   The Sacred Bundle for the Big Black Star contained a buckskin map with painted stars on it and represented a detailed map of the sky.   It is not an accurate reproduction of the night sky according the Ray A. Williamson (Living the Sky) but, rather, “it was likely to be more important to the Pawnee to paint the crucial constellations as they understood them from their corpus of myths.  In use, I suspect that the chart served to remind the owner of the bundle and his intimates of the stellar patterns and their stories.”
Skidi Pawnee buckskin Sky Chart

So, what is on the Pawnee Star Chart?  Again, from Williamson, “The North Star, whose name in Pawnee is literally, “the Star That Does Not Walk Around,” they compared to the god Tirawahat.  North Star was chief over all the other stars and saw to it that they did not lose their way. … Rotating around the north star and nearest to it were the groups of stars that represented stretchers.  According to the myth, in the first council, when decisions were being made about where the various gods would stand in the sky, two people became ill.  The stars placed them on stretchers in order to carry them along.  They still journey in the sky, traveling continually about the Star That Does Not Walk Around, and serving as a pattern for humans.  The stretchers are the bowls of the Big and Little Dippers.  The stars that follow (that is, the respective handles) are the Medicine Man, his wife, and Errand Man.

“The chart is divided roughly in half by a series of small painted dots and tiny crosses that represent the Milky Way.  … the Pawnee … considered it the road to the world of the dead.  … Near the center of the chart and below the Milky Way is a large circle of eleven stars called the Council of the Chiefs, who were in the sky to watch over the people.

“… Opposite the Council of chiefs on the other side of the Milky Way is the Pleiades, a compact group of six stars.  The priests used the appearance of the Pleiades, as seen through the lodge smoke hole just after sunset in early spring, to establish the time for planting ceremonies.

“…The arrival of spring … was watched for in the skies by the heliacal appearance of the two stars called the Swimming Ducks.  These were identified by the astronomer Ray Moulton as the stars Lambda and Upsilon Scorpio, which form the stinger of the Western constellation Scorpius.”

James R Murie, whose mother was Pawnee, explained, “The time for the ceremonies of the Evening Star bundle was primarily determined by the recurrence of the thunder in the spring; but it should be understood that it was not at the very first sound of the thunder that the ceremony was held, for it might have thundered at any time.  The approximate time was fixed by the appearance of two small twinkling stars (the Swimming Ducks) in the northeastern [sic: this should read southeastern] horizon near the Milky Way.  When low, deep, rumbling thunder was heard, starting in the west and rolling around the entire circuit of the heavens, then it was time for the Thunder Ritual to be recited.”

The Swimming Ducks were on the star chart near the Milky Way.  To the right was what the Pawnee called the snake, which was the body of the Western constellation Scorpius.  The rolling thunder was symbolic of Tirawahat’s messenger Paruxti telling the Pawnee that life was renewed and the ceremony signified the beginning of the year for the Pawnee and a tribute to the gods.

This is not all of the stars depicted on the buckskin Star Chart.  Many of the others have not been identified.  But, there is no question that they also served as sacred reminders of the special relationship the Pawnee had with star gods of the night sky.


  1. I recently found a stone where I going artifact hunting it has numerous holes drilled all over it the holes are not drilled completely thru the stone rather they range from one to a few or more centimeters deep and also has intersecting lines scored into it I am wondering if anyone has any information n or about this subject please contact me at

  2. Very interesting. Can you share a picture of it?