The Origins of the Milky Way

retold by Richard L. Dieterle


When the creation had been completed, Herešgúnina and his legion of evil spirits set about trying to undo it. They set upon Earthmaker's most fragile creation, mankind. Because they were created last, they were the weakest of all things. Herešgúnina bethought himself how he might bring them to an end. To this end, the Giants came to where the humans lived and challenged them to gamble. Earthmaker took pity on the mortals and sent some of the good spirits down to help them in the contest. He dispatched Morning Star, Thunderbird, Wolf, Otter, Sun, Turtle, and Hérokaga.Sun was noted as the fastest runner, and Wolf was also swift; Morning Star was the best wrestler; Thunderbird the best in battle; Heroka was the best at shooting arrows; Otter could accomplish anything through water; and Turtle was good at diving. After many contest, the Giants challenged them to the game of Diving. One of the Giants dove so far that he came out on the other side. Where he came out, he created the smaller part of the Milky Way. Otter dove so far that he came out on the other side as well, but where he came out the largest part of the Milky Way was created.1


Commentary. "Hérokaga" — this is Redhorn as chief of the Heroka, the hunting spirits. The fact that he is found on a list with Morning Star shows that he is not the same as that deity.

"the best wrestler" — in one of his myths, Morning Star warms up by pulling a giant oak out by its roots. This reflects the power of winds, as we see in another one of his myths that he is also a god of wind.

"he came out on the other side" — this is not stated in the notes, but is an obvious assumption, since it is hard to see how one can dive up.

"he created the smaller part of the Milky Way" — this shows that the Milky Way has been homologized to a body of water. This homology is seen esoterically in numerous other Hočąk myths (see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7). The smaller part of the Milky Way would be the span found in the constellation Gemini, as opposed to the opposite side of the celestial sphere in Scorpius where the galactic center is found. However, one wonders whether this is not backward, since the split in the spirit road — the Milky Way being thought to be the Path of Souls — occurs at the Scorpius end, and the dead end of this split is associated with the Devil, Herešgúnina. Its creation by a Giant would be more appropriate, therefore.


Comparative Material. A number of cultures liken the Milky Way to a body of water. The Quechua name for the Milky Way encodes this fact, Mayu meaning both "Milky Way" and "River." They also say that the river Vilcanota takes its source from the celestial river and makes itself a mirror image of its source.2 The Tucano see the Vaupés River as the counterpart to the Milky Way.3 In China, the Milky Way was viewed as the counterpart of the Yellow River.4 Aborigines of the Adelaide plain in South Australia also think of the Milky Way as a river.5

The "White River" referred to in a Fox myth is almost certainly the Milky Way. The combination of the color white and the Milky Way as a fluid has led to its being likened to milk. The ancient Greeks referred to the Milky Way as Γαλαξίᾱς | Galaxíās, "Milky Circle," from γαλα | gala, γαλακτο- | galakto-, "milk."6 They told the story that when Hera pulled her breast away from the baby Herakles, the milk sprayed across the heavens and formed the Milky Way.7 Among the Buryats, the Milky Way comes from the breast of their goddess Manzan-Görmö.8 The Russians used to believe that the Milky Way was a river that ran from the sky into the earth below, and that in the subterranean land of the dead, it was a river of milk.9


Links: Earthmaker, Herešgúnina, Giants, Morning Star, Wolf & Dog Spirits, Otters, Sun, Turtle, Hérok'a, Redhorn, Celestial Spirits, The Redhorn Panel of Picture Cave. An American Star Map.


Stories: about stars and other celestial bodies: The Dipper, Įčorúšika and His Brothers, The Seven Maidens, Morning Star and His Friend, Little Human Head, Turtle and the Witches, Sky Man, Wojijé, The Raccoon Coat, Sun and the Big Eater, The Big Eater, The Star Husband, Grandfather's Two Families, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, The Children of the Sun, Heną́ga and the Star Girl, The Fall of the Stars; mentioning Earthmaker: The Creation of the World, The Creation of Man, The Commandments of Earthmaker, The Twins Get into Hot Water, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Lost Blanket, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Man Who Would Dream of Mą’ųna, The First Snakes, Tobacco Origin Myth, The Creation Council, The Gray Wolf Origin Myth, The Journey to Spiritland, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, The Seven Maidens, The Descent of the Drum, Thunder Cloud Marries Again, The Spider's Eyes, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, Fourth Universe, Šųgepaga, The Fatal House, The Twin Sisters, Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Elk Clan Origin Myth, Deer Clan Origin Myth, Bear Clan Origin Myth, Wolf Clan Origin Myth, The Masaxe War, The Two Children, Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Petition to Earthmaker, The Gift of Shooting, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Stone Heart, The Wild Rose, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, The Lame Friend, How the Hills and Valleys were Formed, The Hočąk Migration Myth, The Necessity for Death, Hočąk Clans Origin Myth, The War among the Animals, Lake Winnebago Origin Myth, Blue Mounds, Lost Lake, The Hočągara Migrate South, The Spirit of Gambling, Turtle and the Giant, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hočągara, The Hočągara Contest the Giants, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, Bird Origin Myth, Black and White Moons, Redhorn's Sons, Holy Song, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, Death Enters the World, Man and His Three Dogs, Trickster Concludes His Mission, Story of the Thunder Names, Trickster and the Dancers, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, East Enters the Medicine Lodge, The Creation of Evil, The Blessing of Kerexųsaka, Song to Earthmaker, The Blessing of the Bow, The Origin of the Cliff Swallow; featuring Herešgúnina (the Bad Spirit or One Legged One) as a character: The Creation of Evil, The Creation of the World, The Creation of Man, The Twins Get into Hot Water, The Lost Blanket, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Woman Who Became an Ant, The Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Journey to Spiritland, Šųgepaga, The Spirit of Gambling, Bladder and His Brothers, The Two Brothers, The Buffalo's Walk; see also Black and White Moons, The Shawnee Prophet and His Ascension, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hočągara; featuring Giants as characters: A Giant Visits His Daughter, Turtle and the Giant, The Stone Heart, Young Man Gambles Often, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Redhorn Contests the Giants, The Sons of Redhorn Find Their Father, Morning Star and His Friend, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, The Old Man and the Giants, Shakes the Earth, White Wolf, Redhorn's Father, The Hočągara Contest the Giants, The Roaster, Grandfather's Two Families, Redhorn's Sons, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, Thunder Cloud is Blessed, Little Human Head, Heną́ga and the Star Girl, Rich Man, Boy, and Horse, Sun and the Big Eater, The Big Eater, How the Thunders Met the Nights, Ocean Duck, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, Wears White Feather on His Head, cf. The Shaggy Man; featuring Otter as a character: Otter Comes to the Medicine Rite, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Turtle's Warparty, Redhorn's Sons, Redhorn Contests the Giants, The Arrows of the Medicine Rite Men (v. 2), Kunu's Warpath, Įčorúšika and His Brothers, Morning Star and His Friend; mentioning otters: Otter Comes to the Medicine Rite, The Fleetfooted Man, The Dipper, The Two Children, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Turtle's Warparty, Redhorn's Sons, Redhorn Contests the Giants, Kunu's Warpath, Įčorúšika and His Brothers, The Woman who Loved Her Half Brother, The Chief of the Heroka, The Animal Spirit Aids of the Medicine Rite, The Arrows of the Medicine Rite Men (v. 2), Wojijé, Holy Song II, Morning Star and His Friend, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga; featuring Sun as a character: Sun and the Big Eater, Grandfather's Two Families, The Big Eater, The Children of the Sun, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, Hare Burns His Buttocks, The Birth of the Twins, The Man who was Blessed by the Sun, Red Cloud's Death; featuring Morning Star as a character: Morning Star and His Friend, The Human Head, Bladder and His Brothers, Grandfather's Two Families; featuring the Heroka as characters: The Chief of the Heroka, The Red Man, The Oak Tree and the Man Who was Blessed by the Heroka, The Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Little Human Head, Morning Star and His Friend, The Claw Shooter, Redhorn's Sons; featuring Turtle as a character: The Mission of the Five Sons of Earthmaker, Turtle's Warparty, Turtle and the Giant, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married, Turtle and the Merchant, Redhorn's Father, Redhorn's Sons, Turtle and the Witches, The Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Trickster Soils the Princess, Morning Star and His Friend, Grandfather's Two Families, The Race for the Chief's Daughter, Kunu's Warpath, Redhorn Contests the Giants, Redhorn and His Brothers Marry, The Skunk Origin Myth, The Hočąk Migration Myth, Porcupine and His Brothers, The Creation of Man, The Twins Join Redhorn's Warparty, The Father of the Twins Attempts to Flee, The Chief of the Heroka, The Spirit of Gambling, The Nannyberry Picker, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge, The Markings on the Moon (v. 2), The Green Man, The Hočągara Contest the Giants, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Coughing Up of the Black Hawks, The Petition to Earthmaker; mentioning Thunderbirds: The Thunderbird, Waruǧápara, How the Thunders Met the Nights, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, Traveler and the Thunderbird War, The Boulders of Devil's Lake, Thunderbird and White Horse, Bluehorn's Nephews, How the Hills and Valleys were Formed (vv. 1, 2), The Man who was a Reincarnated Thunderbird, The Thunder Charm, The Lost Blanket, The Twins Disobey Their Father, The Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Story of the Thunder Names, The Hawk Clan Origin Myth, Eagle Clan Origin Myth, Pigeon Clan Origins, Bird Clan Origin Myth, Adventures of Redhorn's Sons, Brave Man, Ocean Duck, Turtle's Warparty, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, The Quail Hunter, Heną́ga and the Star Girl, The Twins Join Redhorn's Warparty, Redhorn's Sons, The Dipper, The Stone that Became a Frog, The Race for the Chief's Daughter, Redhorn Contests the Giants, The Sons of Redhorn Find Their Father, The Warbundle of the Eight Generations, Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Origin of the Hočąk Chief, The Spirit of Gambling, Wolf Clan Origin Myth, Aračgéga's Blessings, Kunu's Warpath, The Orphan who was Blessed with a Horse, The Glory of the Morning, The Nightspirits Bless Čiwoit’éhiga, The Green Waterspirit of the Wisconsin Dells, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Big Stone, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, Song to Earthmaker; having Wolf as a character: Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, A Man and His Three Dogs, Redhorn's Sons, The Twins Join Redhorn's Warparty, Redhorn Contests the Giants, The Dogs of the Chief's Son, The Man Whose Wife was Captured, Kunu's Warpath, Morning Star and His Friend, The Healing Blessing.


Themes: Earthmaker acts against those who are not doing right: The Fatal House, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, The Mission of the Five Sons of Earthmaker, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, Turtle and the Giant, Šųgepaga, The Seven Maidens; contests with the Giants: Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Redhorn's Father, White Wolf, The Roaster, Young Man Gambles Often, Little Human Head, Redhorn Contests the Giants, Redhorn's Sons, Morning Star and His Friend, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, Sun and the Big Eater, The Big Eater, The Hočągara Contest the Giants, The Old Man and the Giants, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, Shakes the Earth, The Shaggy Man, Grandfather's Two Families.

Notes

1 "Reason for Milky Way," in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3862 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Winnebago I, #3: 105, 107b.

2 Gary Urton, At the Crossroads of the Earth and the Sky: An Andean Cosmology (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981) 56, 69. Arnold Lebeuf, "The Milky Way, a path of the souls," in Astronomical Traditions in Past Cultures, edd. Vesselina Koleva and Dimiter Kolev. Proceedings of the First Annual General Meeting of the European Society for Astronomy in Culture, Smolyan, Bulgaria, 31 August - 2 September 1993 (Sofia: Institute of Astronomy, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, National Astronomical Observatory, Rozhen, 1996) 148-161 [151].

3 Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff, "Astronomical Models of Social Behavior Among Some Indians of Colombia," in Anthony F. Aveni and Gary Urton, Ethnoastronomy and Archaeoastronomy in the American Tropics, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, vol. 385 (New York: New York Academy of Sciences, 1982) 165-181 [168]; Lebeuf, "The Milky Way, a path of the souls," 151.

4 Lebeuf, "The Milky Way, a path of the souls," 151.

5 Edwin C. Krupp, Beyond the Blue Horizon: Myths and Legends of the Sun, Moon, Stars, and Planets (New York: Harper Collins, 1991) 257-258, 272.

6 Ernest Klein, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, unabridged (Amsterdam: Elsevier, 1971) 302a, s.v. "galaxy."

7 Uno Harva, Die religiösen Vorstellungen der altaischen Völker, trs. Erich Kunze (from Finnish to German), Folklore Fellows Communications, vol. 52, #125 (1938): 5-634 [201].

8 "Burjatskija skazki i poverja [Buryat folktales and proverbs]," collected by N. M. Changalovym, N. Zatopljaevym, et alia, in Izvestiya Vostochno-Sibirskogo otdeleniya Geograficheskogo obshchestva, 1, #1 (1889): 127; Grigorii Nikolaevich Potanin, Erke: Kul't syna neba v Sievernoi Azii (Tomsk: A. M. Grigor'evoi, 1916) 37; Uno Harva, Die religiösen Vorstellungen der altaischen Völker, 200; Lebeuf, "The Milky Way, a path of the souls," 151 (who has Yakuts).

9 Boris Andreevich Uspenskiĭ, Kult świętego Mikołaja na Rus, trs. (into Polish) Elżbieto Janus, Maria Renata Mayenowa, Zofia Kozłowska (Lublin: Katolicki Uniwersytet Lubelski, 1985) 215; Lebeuf, "The Milky Way, a path of the souls," 151.