Time needed: 20–30 minutes
- None (just a good storytelling ability!)
Setup: The sky is a masterpiece full of beauty, wonder, and mystery. Every day it graces us with living art, whether through a colorful sunset, shifting cloud formations, or a stunning display of night stars. Through the Sky badge, you’ll learn more about the sky—from science to stars to stories.
Activity: Learn about different cultures’ sky stories, and then write your own.
- Blackfoot of the North American Plains
Excerpt from “Indigenous Astronomy: The Blackfoot of The North American Plains.”
A long time ago there was this young man. This young man, as his father was going out to hunt some buffalos. The young man runs after his father and he says "father, when you go out and get the buffalo can you bring me back the unborn buffalo." The father looks at his son and says "I will." The father leaves. Late that evening, that night when the father comes back from his hunt, the young boy runs back to greet his father. He runs back and he says, "Father, where is my unborn buffalo calf?" The father stands there and says, "Oh, I forgot." He walks away and goes into his tipi. The young boy stands around there and he is looking very hurt, very sad because of what his father. He thinks to himself and he says "my father doesn’t love me, my father neglects me." I don’t want to be at a place where I am not loved. So, the young man turns around and he walks out to the prairie. When he walks out to the prairie he sees five boys and he approaches them he goes to them he says "what are you guys doing out here by yourselves?" The five boys replied: "we asked our fathers to bring us back the unborn buffalo calf but our fathers didn’t. We don’t want to live at a place where we are not wanted, we are unloved, we are neglected. So the six lost boys go out to the prairie. One of the young boys looked up to the sky and said, “we should go up to the heavens where we can be there and we can look down on our people”. So, they went up to the heavens and to this day we can still see them. These six lost boys, in the springtime when the buffalos are starting to be born, disappear. In the fall when the buffalo start to turn darker, then the six lost boys come out to see them. Because they were never allowed to see the unborn buffalo calves, these young boys never come out until the buffalo get a little bit older. So it’s a reminder never to neglect your children.
"Anishinaabe" means "the people" in Algonquin. The Ojibwe people of Canada, who live in northwestern Ontario, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan, use the word to refer to themselves.
Sky stories of the Anishinaabe are part of a complex system of spiritual beliefs. Knowledge of the stars is found in many aspects of their culture, including storytelling, symbolism, and religious traditions.
According to the Anishinaabe, seven children loved to dance and play, rather than help their parents in camp. The children’s mother went to seek advice on this problem and was told to place stones on their food so the children would appreciate the value of hard work when they were forced to remove the stones from their food before they could eat it. Unfortunately, this plan did not work. One day, the children danced so hard, they danced up into the sky, where they can be seen to this day. Although you can clearly see them in the winter, they cannot be seen in the summer. During the summer months, when people are celebrating through ceremonies and dances, the children join them, returning to the heavens with the onset of winter.
- Indigenous Australians
Indigeous people’s names and stories about particular stars vary from place to place in Australia. Stories from the coastal areas are mostly about fishing, because that’s the main food source, while stories from the central desert are more often about birds, hunters, or tribal heroes. For example, near the coast, the Southern Cross constellation is often represented as a giant stingray being pursued by a shark, but in the central desert, the same constellation is often described as the footprint of a giant eagle.
This story is about the planet Venus. Excerpt from “The Evening Star and the Morning Star - The Planet Venus.”
The planet Venus is often thought of as a star - the first one to appear at night (so it is often called the Evening Star) and the last one to fade in the morning sunlight (so it is also called the Morning Star). Because of this, the planet has been part of the legends of many different cultures. It was also an important sign to the Aboriginal people of Australia, who arose at dawn to begin their hunting or fishing. They usually thought of it as a girl.
In a story from Arnhem Land (in the far north of Australia) the Morning Star is named Barnumbir and she lives on an island called Bralgu, the Island of the Dead. Because she was so bright, her people often asked her to come out in their boats when they went fishing in the early morning, so that they could see better. But Barnumbir was so afraid of drowning that she always refused to go with them on the sea. Finally, two old women of the tribe solved the problem. They tied a long string around her waist so that they could pull her back to Bralgu and keep her safe in a woven basket during the day. Because she is tied to the string she cannot rise very high in the sky and always keeps near the horizon - as Venus does.
- The Milky Way
Nearly all Indigenous Australians thought of the Milky Way as a river in the sky. The big stars in it were fish and the small stars were lily bulbs (also good for food).
Excerpt from “The Milky Way.”
In Queensland the Aboriginal story about the Milky Way featured a tribal hero called Priepriggie. He was as famous for his songs and dances as for his hunting. When he sang, the people danced to the rhythm until they dropped with exhaustion and declared that if Priepriggie wished he could make even the stars dance. One morning Priepriggie got up very early, before anyone else was awake, to go hunting. Far away from the camp he found a tree full of flying foxes hanging down asleep from the branches. Although they are small, they make a tasty meal when there is nothing bigger, so he speared the largest one to take home. Unfortunately, it was the leader and the rest of the flying foxes awoke and descended upon Priepriggie in great anger. As punishment, they carried him up to the sky.
Back at the camp, his people woke up but could not find Priepriggie. After searching everywhere in vain they decided to perform his dance in the hope that he would return and join them, but they found that without his singing they could not remember the rhythm or keep in time. When evening came they were still shuffling around, all out of step and despairing of ever remembering the traditional songs and dances. Suddenly they heard faint singing coming from the sky. As the song grew louder and the rhythm stronger, they began to get into step and remember the song. Then the stars, which had been scattered across the sky without any pattern or order, also began to twinkle and dance to Priepriggie's song. Gradually they arranged themselves in a wide, glittering ribbon across the sky - the Milky Way. So the Milky Way reminds them constantly that the tribal hero should be celebrated with the proper ceremonies and that they should never forget these traditional songs and dances.
Greeks have many stories about constellations that they’ve passed down through generations. One is about Casseopia, queen of the night sky.
Excerpt from “Constellation Legends.”
Cassiopeia, Andromeda’s mother, boasted that she was the most beautiful woman in the world, even more beautiful than the gods. Poseidon, the brother of Zeus and the god of the seas, took great offense at this statement, for he had created the most beautiful beings ever in the form of his sea nymphs. In his anger, he created a great sea monster, Cetus (pictured as a whale) to ravage the seas and sea coast. Since Cassiopeia would not recant her claim of beauty, it was decreed that she must sacrifice her only daughter, the beautiful Andromeda, to this sea monster. So Andromeda was chained to a large rock projecting out into the sea and was left there to await the arrival of the great sea monster Cetus. As Cetus approached Andromeda, Perseus arrived (some say on the winged sandals given to him by Hermes). He had just killed the gorgon Medusa and was carrying her severed head in a special bag. When Perseus saw the beautiful maiden in distress, like a true champion he went to her aid. Facing the terrible sea monster, he drew the head of Medusa from the bag and held it so that the sea monster would see it. Immediately, the sea monster turned to stone. Perseus then freed the beautiful Andromeda and, claiming her as his bride, took her home with him as his queen to rule.
Your Own Story
Now it’s time to write your own story! Perhaps the most mythologized part of the sky is the appearance of the northern and southern lights: ghostly waves of red, blue, and green. Cultures that witnessed the lights came up with many interpretations; the Fox Indian tribes of Wisconsin feared that the lights were slain enemies. Scandinavian fishermen saw them as a sign of rich catches. Some Chinese believed a fire-breathing dragon caused them.
Go online and find a video of the northern lights. Watch it and think about how you would write your own story about the northern lights. You can make it a bedtime or campfire story to share with your family and friends.
Happy writing and storytelling!