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.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

December 21, 2012! Doomsday?

Does the Maya Calendar Really predict the end of the world for December 21, 2012

Predicted Ruler after the 13th baktun

The doomsday prediction is supposedly based upon the Mayan Calendar which supposedly predicted the end of the world.  Well, in truth, the calendar doesn't predict an end of the world, just an end to one of the many cycles inherent in the Mayan calendar system.  The Mayan Calendar was the product of sophisticated observation of the earth and the heavens.  Today, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration represents this function for us.   After receiving a deluge of questions, they have responded with, “Just as the calendar you have on your kitchen wall does not cease to exist after December 31, the Mayan calendar does not cease to exist on December 21, 2012. This date is the end of the Mayan long-count period but then -- just as your calendar begins again on January 1 -- another long-count period begins for the Mayan calendar.”

So what is significant about the “Long Count?”  Early on, in fact before the Maya, the people of that region noticed that some things repeat over a period of time.  They saw that the sun regularly rises and sets every day.  They noticed that the phases of the moon repeated after 29 days.  They figured out that from a woman’s first missed period until birth was 260 days.  They watched as the sun rises and sets progressively further north or south each day until after 365 days, it starts over and repeats its journey.    Armed with these basics, they started tracking everything believing that if they watched it long enough, it would eventually start again.  So, if you know the cycles, then you can predict the future of that cycle – when it will end and when it will begin again.  The system became so sophisticated that they could predict what a baby would grow up to be based on the day it was born.

I like to think of the Mayan Calendar as a machine with many gears.  For instance, there are the basic two gears that are called the Tzolkin, or the Calendar Round.  Gear one has 13 cogs and gear two has 20.  Let’s say you align cog 0 on the smaller gear to cog 0 on the larger gear.  Each cog represents one day.  These cogs would re-align after 260 days.  Then they added another gear with 365 cogs that would track a 52-year cycle, and that combination is called the Haab.

In the Calendar Round, the cogs on gear one were numbers and the cogs on gear two were names.   Not unlike our astrology, each name had characteristics that enabled interpreters to make predictions.  If the year began with 10 Ahua, for example, it meant “scanty are the rains … misery”.
In addition to these gear systems, an independent calendar called the “Long Count” was used to count the days since, well, the beginning of time.  The starting date for the Long Count is August 11, 3114 BCE in the Gregorian calendar or 6 September in the Julian calendar(-3113 astronomical).   For this calendar, the Mayans used a “positional” system similar to our number system.  The first position of our number represents the number of “1’s”; the same with the Long Count.  The second position in our system represents the number of “10’s”; it is the number of “20’s” for the Maya.  So, would be year 25.  Numbers were similar to our Roman Numerals, with dots and bars.  A dot is 1 and a bar represented 5.
The Long Count was particularly well suited to use on monuments.  Significant periods or episodes were documented by the Maya with the erection of a Stela monument.  The monumental inscriptions would not only include the 5 digits of the Long Count, but would also include the two tzolkin characters followed by the two haab characters.  The monument pictured to the right is from the east side of stela C, Quirigua with the date of 13 baktuns, 0 katuns, 0 tuns, 0 uinals, 0 kins, 4 Ahau 8 Cumku.
So what does all this have to do with December 21, 2012?  It is simply the day that the Maya Long Count calendar will go to the next baktun, Long Count This date doesn’t even complete the baktun series when the Long Count rolls over to piktun 1 at Long Count, October 13, 4772.

I do find the numerical symbology elegant.  The Mayan Long count equates to 12-21-12 on our calendar, which is our Winter Solstice (first day of winter).

-- Courtney Miller

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Native American Skies -- Pawnee Morning Star Ritual, Part 3

Pawnee Chief
In Part 1, we learn of human sacrifice to the Morning Star by the Skidi Pawnee.  Astronomer Von Del Chamberlain explained, “The sacrifice of a captured maiden … are all part of the symbolic re-enactment of the original conquering acts of Morning Star, as seen in the heavens”.  In Part 2, we learned the story of Morningstar defeating the “hardships” placed in his way by Evening Star and how he prevailed and their maiden child came down to people the earth.  In Part 3, I want to show how the Skidi Pawnee adapted the story of the heavens into their lives.

Quoting from “Living the Sky” by Ray A. Williamson, “According to their own stories, the Pawnee received much of their ritual direction from the stars.  They claimed that at one time they organized their villages according to stellar patterns.  Each village, they said, possessed a sacred bundle given to it by one of the stars.  When the different villages assembled for a great ceremony, their spatial arrangement on earth reflected the celestial positions of the stars whose bundles they possessed.  Then there were eighteen separate Skidi Pawnee villages, each associated with a different star.

“ … four of the villages belonged to the four semicardinal stars that Morning star overcame in his quest for Evening Star.  These villages were termed the leading villages because each took its turn in leading the annual ceremonial cycle,beginning when the various sacred bundles were opened in the spring after the Evening Star Ritual. … they served as the pillars of Heaven that held the sky away from the earth. 

“In the traditional Pawnee earth lodge, the four posts that held up the roof represented the four stars that held up the sky. … The northwest star … was associated with spring, the mountain lion, yellow corn, and a female star, Yellow Star.  Yellow Star was married to Red Star, who ruled over the southeast in the summer … associated with red corn and the wolf.  Big Black Star, which stood in the northeast, was the autumn star.  He was associated with black corn and with the bear.  He was married to the southwest, or white, star.  She, in turn, ruled over winter and was associated with white corn and the wildcat.”

Skidi Pawnee Star Chart
Astronomer Chamberlain used the star colors and their prominence and timing in the sky to surmise that the Yellowish star is Capella, Antares the Red Star, Sirius the White Star, and Vega the Black Star.  Of course, no star is black, so its relationship and pairing with the other stars led him to suggest it is the black star.  They believed that the Black Star bestowed knowledge on them and in the Black Star’s bundle they carried a buckskin with a detailed chart of the stars painted on it.  In Part 4, I will reveal what the chart contained.

As you can see, the Pawnee tried to model their lives after the night sky, interpreting what they witnessed above and applying it below.  Curiously, unlike most other cultures, the Sun and Moon played only minor roles. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Native American Skies: Pawnee Morning Star Ritual, Part 2

Morning of Spring Equinox, 1838. 
Mars (Morning Star) is rising and chasing
 Venus (Evening Star)  higher and to the right
[captured from Starry Night software]
In part 1, I presented the last known Pawnee Morning Star Ritual involving human sacrifice – the sacrificing of Haxti, an Oglala Sioux teenager captured specifically for the ritual.  It is difficult for us to understand why anyone would do such a seemingly cruel and violent act.  In this article, I will try to give the Pawnee side.

According to Ray A. Williamson, in his book “Living the Sky”, “The practice of sacrifice to Morning Star was part of the rites of the Skidi band of the Pawnee, a group that had developed a unique relationship to the stars.  Of all the Native American groups, no one had developed such an intricate and direct affinity to the stars.  For them, the stars were kindred souls; they took much of the direction of their life from the sky.”

James R. Murie, whose mother was Skidi Pawnee, wrote, “Over all is Tirawa (or Tirawahat), the One Above, changeless and supreme.  From Tirawa comes all things: Tirawa made the heavens and the stars.

“In the west dwelt the White Star Woman, the Evening Star, who must be sought and overcome that creation might be achieved.  From the east went forth the Great Star, the Morning Star, to find and overcome the Evening Star, that creation might be achieved.  The Morning star called to his younger brother: “Take the Sacred Bundle, bear it over thy shoulder and follow.”  And the Morning Star journeyed to the west.  As ever as he journeyed, the Evening Star moved, came and drew him towards her.  (For men may see how the Evening Star moves nightly.  One night she is low in the heavens, another night she is high in the heavens.  Even so she moved and drew the Morning Star.)  Yet when the Evening Star beheld the Morning Star draw near, she placed in his path Hard Things to hinder his approach.  Thus, even as the Morning Star first saw the Evening Star, she rose and looked on him and beckoned him.  He started towards her, but the earth opened and waters swept down, and in waters was a serpent with mouth wide opened to devour.”
Mars (Morning Star) catches up to
Venus (Evening Star) July 23, 1838
[From Starry Night program]

Morning Star [Mars] defeated the serpent by throwing a fireball into its mouth.  But then Evening Star [Venus] put up nine more “hardships” to discourage him which he also defeated.  When he finally reached her lodge, he had to defeat four beasts guarding the four directions.  Again from Murie, “And the Morning Star spoke [to the stars] and said, “I have conquered, and ye shall obey my command.  Thou, black Star, shalt stand in the northeast, whence cometh night.  Thou art Autumn.  Thou, Yellow Star, shalt stand in the northwest, where is the golden setting of the sun.  Thou art Spring.  Thou, White Star, shalt stand in the south, facing north, whence cometh the snow.  Thou art Winter.  Thou, Red Star, shalt stand in the southeast.  Thou art Summer.”

But Evening Star was not ready to relent to Morning Star and placed more “hardships” before him.  He even had to create the rain and the sun to provide water, light, and heat for her garden.  When, at last, Evening Star submitted to Morning Star, their maiden child descended to earth and married a boy and their children peopled the earth.

Astronomer Von Del Chamberlain suggests that the details of the capture and preparation of a maiden for sacrifice is all part of the symbolic re-enactment of the original conquering acts of Morning Star, as seen in the heavens.  The ritual ceremony was critical to ensure the fertility of the earth for planting and the abundance of buffalo for hunting.

In Part 3, I will explain how the Pawnee used their knowledge of the stars to guide their lives.