Origin of the Constellations

Iroquois tradition tells us that the sun and moon existed before the creation of the earth, but the stars had all been mortals or favored animals and birds.

Seven little Indian boys were once accustomed to bring at eve their corn and beans to a little mound, upon the top of which, after their feast, the sweetest of their singers would sit and sing for his mates who danced around the mound. On one occasion they resolved on a more sumptuous feast, and each was to contribute towards a savory soup. But the parents refused them the needed supplies, and they met for a feastless dance. Their heads and hearts grew lighter as they flew around the mound, until suddenly the whole company whirled off into the air. The inconsolable parents called in vain for them to return, but it was too late. Higher and higher they arose, whirling around their singer, until, transformed into bright stars, they took their places in the firmament, where, as the Pleiades, they are dancing still, the brightness of the singer having been dimmed, however, on account of his desire to return to earth.

A party of hunters were once in pursuit of a bear, when they were attacked by a monster stone giant, and all but three destroyed. The three together, with the bear, were carried by invisible spirits up into the sky, where the bear can still be seen, pursued by the first hunter with his bow, the second with the kettle, and the third, who, farther behind, is gathering sticks. Only in fall do the arrows of the hunters pierce the bear, when his dripping blood tinges the autumn foliage. Then for a time he is invisible, but afterwards reappears.

An old man, despised and rejected by his people, took his bundle and staff and went up into a high mountain, where he began singing the death chant. Those below, who were watching him, saw him slowly rise into the air, his chant ever growing fainter and fainter, until it finally ceased as he took his place in the heavens, where his stooping figure, staff, and bundle have ever since been visible, and are pointed out as Nă-gê-tci (the old man).

An old woman, gifted with the power of divination, was unhappy because she could not also foretell when the world would come to an end. For this she was transported to the moon, where to this day she is clearly to be seen weaving a forehead-strap. Once a month she stirs the boiling kettle of hominy before her, during which occupation the cat, ever by her side, unravels her net, and so she must continue until the end of time, for never until then will her work be finished.

As the pole star was ever the Indian’s guide, so the northern lights were ever to him the indication of coming events. Were they white, frosty weather would follow; if yellow, disease and pestilence; while red predicted war and bloodshed: and a mottled sky in the springtime was ever the harbinger of a good corn season.

Myths of the Iroquois