Turtle and the Witches

by Oliver LaMère

retold by Richard L. Dieterle

Once there was a village in which many people lived. The game there was plentiful and there were many cool springs from which to draw water. In time, however, the people began to suffer mysterious maladies and misfortunes, and it soon became apparent that the land was full of witches. It became so bad that the men could not go out in the forest to hunt, nor could the women go to the springs to draw water. So a delegation was sent to Turtle, and they turned the stem of their pipe to him and asked that he help subdue the witches that plagued them. Turtle took the pipe and said, "Ho!" and drew in a draft. After he arrived at their village, he challenged the witches on many occasions and in the end bested them. Turtle then summoned them to a great council, and there they solemnly agreed not to molest the humans further. They all took on the form of stars in a constellation that can be seen even to this day. Turtle is the central star, and the witches that formed a circle around him at the council are the many stars who surround him.1

Commentary. "a constellation" — all we have of this waiką is the shortest outline. Of the identity of this Hocąk constellation, there is no public knowledge. Nevertheless, it seems likely that this is Corona Borealis, which answers to the pattern of stars described in the story. The Pawnee (see Comparative Material) have a similar characterization. However, there is no bright star in the center of the Corona Borealis ring. The Lakota have a constellation which seems far more likely, an asterism that they call the "Race Track," or the "Sacred Hoop" (Caŋgleṡƙa Wak̇aŋ).2 Nearly the exact same asterism, with the difference that Aldebaran rather than the Pleiades is used in the circle, is known in the West as the "Winter Circle," or the Winter Hexagon. The configuration of the Sacred Hoop is shown below:

StarryNight Pro Plus 7
The Sacred Hoop

There is a very prominent star in the middle of this circle: Betelgeuse, a bright red star appropriate to the standing of Turtle as the Spirit of war. Furthermore, this asterism is seen in whole only during the winter, the time of war.

Comparative Material. In a Pawnee story, we see a similar pattern described in terms of different characters. "The constellation Corona Borealis is said to be 'a council of chiefs, and the star in the center of the circle, the servant cooking over the fire, preparing the feast'."3

Links: Turtle, Witches, Celestial Spirits, The Redhorn Panel of Picture Cave. An American Star Map.

Stories: about stars and other celestial bodies: The Dipper, Įcorúšika and His Brothers, The Seven Maidens, Morning Star and His Friend, Little Human Head, 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 Star Girl, The Origins of the Milky Way, The Fall of the Stars; 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, 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 Hocąk 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 Hocągara Contest the Giants, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Coughing Up of the Black Hawks, The Petition to Earthmaker, The Origins of the Milky Way; mentioning witches or warlocks: The Witch Men's Desert, The Thunder Charm, The Wild Rose, The Seer, Great Walker and the Ojibwe Witches, The Claw Shooter, Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store, Migistéga’s Magic, Mijistéga and the Sauks, Migistéga's Death, The Mesquaki Magician, The Tap the Head Medicine, Keramaniš’aka's Blessing, Battle of the Night Blessed Men and the Medicine Rite Men, The Magical Powers of Lincoln's Grandfather, The Hills of La Crosse, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hocągara (v. 2), Įcorúšika and His Brothers, Thunder Cloud Marries Again, Paint Medicine Origin Myth, The Woman's Scalp Medicine Bundle, Potato Magic, Young Rogue's Magic; mentioning springs: Trail Spring, Vita Spring, Merrill Springs, Big Spring and White Clay Spring, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, Bear Clan Origin Myth, vv. 6, 8, Bird Clan Origin Myth, The Woman Who Fought the Bear, Bluehorn's Nephews, Blue Mounds, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, The Lost Child, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Wild Rose, The Omahas who turned into Snakes, The Two Brothers, Snowshoe Strings, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, How the Thunders Met the Nights, The Nannyberry Picker, The Orphan who was Blessed with a Horse, Rich Man, Boy, and Horse, The Two Boys, Waruǧábᵉra, Wazųka, The Man Who Fell from the Sky.

Themes: Turtle agrees to avenge the losses of those who have petitioned his aid as a warrior: Redhorn Contests the Giants, Trickster Soils the Princess, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse; someone is, or becomes, a star: The Seven Maidens, The Dipper, Grandfather's Two Families, Morning Star and His Friend, Heną́ga and Star Girl, Įcorúšika and His Brothers, The Star Husband.


1 Charles Edward Brown, Indian Star Lore (Madison, Wisc.: State Historical Museum, 1930) 8. Informant: Oliver LaMère, Bear Clan.

2 Ronald Goodman, Lakota Star Knowledge: Studies in Lakota Stellar Theology (Rosebud Sioux Reservation: Siñte Gleska University, 1992) cover, 5-7, 9, 12, 23.

3 Alice C. Fletcher, "Pawnee Star Lore," Journal of American Folklore, 16 (1903): 10-15 [14].