Star Stories, part 8: Sky Spirits (The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars)
Updated: May 5
Pokwaagami-giizis /Iskigamizige-giizis (Broken Snowshoe Moon/Sugarbushing Moon, April 29, 2020)
Boozhoo! Biindigen miinawaa nindaadizooke wigamigong; enji-zaagi'iding miinawaa gikendaasong. Ningad-aadizooke noongom giizhigad! Hello! Welcome back in my Storytelling Lodge where legends and teaching stories are told!
~~ OUR SCIENCE IS IN OUR STORYTELLING ~~
Recently, I read an article on the Internet, titled "Relearning the Star Stories," that made a lot of sense to me. It basically said, there seems to be this idea that science is all rational, that science is immune from culture, and that this notion, which is widespread in Western thinking, is simply not true. "Science itself is not actually separate from culture. It came from a specific culture, and that’s Western European." The author of the article could not have been closer to the truth. Today's prevalent picture of what science is was shaped by Western European history and the biases of that culture. Western science has a lot to learn from our ancient worldview and sacred storie - particularly our star stories.
What is it, then, that can be learned from our sacred stories?
Turtle Island cultures have practiced oral tradition for tens-of-thousands of years. Many of our traditions and sacred stories originated from actual observations that occurred centuries ago, but are still preserved in our oral traditions. Our indigenous stories not only describe natural events and phenomena, but also relate that knowledge to our everyday lives as Native Peoples. Medical research has shown that our brains are wired to learn and remember better by stories. Our science is in our storytelling; it is very probable that, since the first Anishinaabeg came from the Sky World, our first stories were star stories.
~~ OUR STAR STORIES ~~
Let me first tell you something about the stars, what they mean to our People. Then I will tell you about the zirconium-and-gold wedding ring sets that you see depicted in the below images. Those, along with a beautiful canvas by one of my all-time favorite painters, Wikwemikong Anishinaabe painter Bebaminojmat (Leland Bell), as well as two pen-and-ink drawings - one by the late Stanley Panamick and one by myself - serve as illustrations to the story told today. Bebaminojmat’s painting, which you can see above, is titled “Discovering Wisdom.”
Anangoog, the stars and planets, have always been regarded as our oldest relatives. The next in order are Giizis, the Sun, and Dibik-giizis, the Moon. Anang Gikendaasowin, as we call our science of the stars and the other celestial bodies, directly pertains to our animistic outlook on nature, and, particularly, on our reciprocal relationship with the land that we live on. It is therefore found in many aspects of our culture, such as our knowledge of aandakiiwinan (seasonal changes), nandawenjige and maamawinige (hunting and gathering activities), manidookewinan (our ceremonies), and - last but not least - our aadizookewin (storytelling).
The title of the above ring set is Aadizookaanag Giizhigong: “Sky Spirits,” or, more literally, “Makers of Stories/Legendary Characters from (in) the Sky.” The title as well as the shiny black color of the zirconium used for the rings refer to the night sky and the Great Spirit Nation that dwells there, headed by Gimishoomisinsaan Giizis (Our Grandfather Sun), Wezaawigiizhigookwe Nookomis Dibik-giizis (Yellow Sky Woman, also called Sky Spirit Woman, also called Grandmother Moon), and anangoog (the Planets and Star Constellations).
In making the rings I used gold inlay for the moon and the sun; this was done by hammering round, respectively white and yellow gold, rivet wires into both titanium ring shanks. The star world is symbolized by smaller rivet wire of red gold; in the men’s ring waaban-anang, the morning star, is positioned behind the sun; the ladies’ ring shows ningaabii-anang, the evening star who rises behind the moon.
Ningaabii-anang, a seasoned aadizookaan (supernatural grandfather) who appears in the western sky at night, and Waaban-anang, a young medicine man who rises in the east just before sunup, are counterparts of a single star known as “Venus” in European Western culture. The Grandfathers are considered antipodes. The first, patron of all women and used in navigating at night, represents old age and wisdom; the latter, for many Anishinaabeg a sign of hope of biidaaban (the coming of a new dawn), represents youth and knowledge, and as such they symbolize the lasting conflict between all opposing, yet also complementary, forces and experiences that exist in the Universe and in human life.
Both Grandfathers form together one star, which our People call giizhig-anang, the Day Star – and is known by many non-Native people by the name of Venus. Together they embody the winds, the clouds, the stars and all the other natural phenomena that relate to the eastern and the western directions. Both illuminate, along with the sun and the moon, the souls and spirits of two lovers during the day and the night, filling their hearts with goodness, infusing their minds with consciousness and wisdom…
Ahaaw wingad-aadizooke noongom giizhigad! Okay, now let me tell you a sacred story...
~~ THE STORY OF THE SUN AND THE MOON AND THE EARTH ~~
Many moons ago, when the World was not yet born, there was only something, a Great Mystery that perhaps comes close to what we would call a Dream.
This Dream, or Vision, was filled with a vast sky filled with many stars and the day-sun and the night-sun, and beneath it was the earth in the form of a giant sea turtle.
One day this Dream, or Vision, was materialized into rock, water, fire, and wind.
These substances were born spontaneously, seemingly out of nothing, and into each was breathed a sacred life breath that is often called GICHI-MANIDOO (Literally: Great Mystery, or sum of all Mysteries).
So it is understood that from these four sacred substances, each gifted with a different soul and spirit and nature and shadow, was created Cosmos, or Order. This brand new Order was filled with the day-sun, the stars, the night-sun, and the earth, and all these beings were animated by this vital life force named GICHI-MANIDOO.
Into the day-sun GICHI-MANIDOO breathed the powers of light and heat and rays to warm the earth.
Into the night-sun GICHI-MANIDOO breathed the powers of light and the power to watch over the earth and all her children at night.
Into the earth GICHI-MANIDOO breathed the power of growth and healing, and on and beneath her surface were formed hills, mountains, plains, valleys, lakes, rivers, streams, bays, wells, ponds, and even underwater streams. These waters were given the twin powers of purity and renewal. The wind was given music-making qualities and it was infused by the same power of breath of life as GICHI-MANIDOO's.
Then plants and animals (and birds, insects, and fish) were created and, then, finally, the Anishinaabeg…
Once the Great Nation of the Anishinaabeg was placed on the borders of the Great Salt Sea in the East, everything was seemingly in its place and everything appeared to have been adequately infused with the sacred breath called GICHI-MANIDOO, this sacred essence that had brought about beauty and harmony and order.
It was then that the Great Laws of Nature came into existence. These laws bound together every living entity that existed within the great order of the newly-born Universe. These Great Laws of Nature regulated the seasons and all patterns of existence, governing the position and movement of the physical bodies (sun, moon, earth, stars) and the four sacred substances (rock, water, fire, and wind), controlling and safeguarding the rhythm and continuity of birth, growth, decay, and rebirth, ensuring they all lived and worked together interdependently.*
In short, with the materialization of this Dream or Vision that is often called Great Mystery, and which resulted in the formation of the new Cosmos, came BIMAADIZIWIN; life as we know it.
Giiwenh, thus is the story of the Sun and the Moon and the Earth.
~~ THE STORY OF THE MORNING STAR AND THE EVENING STAR ~~
Wayeshkad, in the beginning of times, GICHI-MANIDOO, the Great Mystery, after the creation of the Sun and the Moon and the Earth, dreamt into existence wendaanimag noodinoon, the Four Directions: Giiwedin the North, Waaban the East, Zhaawan the South, and E-bangishimog the West . The star called Nigaabii-anang was assigned to the quarter of the world called E-bangishimog and to the winds and the portion of time that goes with the western direction. Thus the Western, or Evening, Star was gifted with an important power over life on earth to be exercized with prudence and wisdom so that harmony would be maintained forever.
One bad day, however, after many strings of life of perfect harmony between the North, the East, the South, and the West, a struggle arose between Nigaabii-anang and the Spirit of the East.
Although nowadays Waaban-anang, the Eastern/Morning Star Spirit that governs the East, controlls knowledge and medicines equally vast and powerful to that of the Western/Evening Star and the other two quarters of the earth, this had not always been so! In the very beginning, since Waanan-anang was not yet fully accredited as a medicine man, Nigaabii-anang had been assigned the task of being Waaban-anang's Elder and tutor!
It is said that the animosity between the two powerful stars started when the proud and headstrong Waaban-anang, after many years of study under Nigaabii-anang’s tutelage, felt that he was ready to exercize his own medicine without Nigaabii-anang’s supervision and counsel; when the latter told his impetuous and hot-tempered student that his knowledge and skills were not complete since he had not yet reached his level of wisdom and moderation and patience that is needed to conduct the important tasks of teaching healing and prolonging life, Waaban-anang challenged him to a contest, taunting him and challenging him to prove his powers.
The battle that took place between the Morning Star and the Evening Star that day became a metaphor for the lasting human conflict between youth and age, and also between knowledge and wisdom. Although in this day and age neither star is more powerful than the other and although the Morning Star and the Evening Star have made peace a long time ago, Dawn and Evening still continue their duels, thus symbolizing the eternal conflics and dualisms within the human soul, and within human society as a whole...
Mii sa ekoozid. Miigwech gibizindaw noongom mii dash gidibaajimotoon wa’aw aadizookaan. And that is the end of the story. Thank you for listening to me today, for allowing me to relate to you this traditional tale. Giga-waabamin wayiiba, I hope to see you again soon.
* Loosely based on Basil Johnston: Ojibway Heritage: The ceremonies, rituals, songs,dances, prayers and legends of the Ojibway. McClelland and Stewart 1976, reprinted 1998; Toronto.
> Read the first part of the Star Stories series: Fisher Star Lives in the Sun.