Celestial Spirits

by Richard L. Dieterle

The Hocąk pantheon has a number of stellar and quasi-stellar spirits which we may term "Celestial Spirits," that play important roles in the divine order of the cosmos. Some are individual stars, while others are whole constellations. Some of the planets, which are thought of as stars, play even more important roles. Rounding out the Celestial Spirits is Wojijega who is the embodiment of the spiritual power of comets and shooting stars.

"The stars are supposed to be the issue of the sun & moon, to possess life, and to be composed of unequal parts of the heat and cold of their parents, which accounts for the difference in their appearance. They have an abode near the sun & moon, to which they resort during the day, and they are sent in the night to relieve their mother, the moon."1 Two girls wished upon a bright and a dim star respectively that these stars might become their husbands. They awoke in the sky world. The first, who had selected the bright star, found herself lying next to a man of great age, but the girl who had wished upon a dim star had a young man. When they died, these men were to be their husbands.2 A spirit who lived in the sky used to spend the nights sowing the stars in the firmament out of a bundle in which he stored them. He strictly forbade his mortal wife to touch this bundle, but she could not resist looking inside, and when she opened it, a host of stars escaped. This is why there aren't more stars in the heavens today.3 Despite the sky man's work, once all the stars of the nocturnal vault fell to earth, and had to be reset in the firmament.4 Once a sky man fell from the heavens. He looked like a human being save that his shining face and hands were pure white. He was taken in by the father of the two sisters who found him. There on earth he awaited the right moment. Then, during a great thunder storm, he was struck by lightning and ascended through the bolt into the heavens whence he had come.5

Still other stars, belonging to constellations, were cast into the sky to make eternal important relationships that began on earth. When Polaris was about to catch up to the seven virgins and make a meal of them, he was struck down by Earthmaker. Polaris was made into the Pole Star; the seven maidens became the Big Dipper; and the warriors who were supposed to have guarded the maidens were made into the constellation of the Little Dipper so that they would always be between Polaris and the objects of his appetite.6 Another waiką says that Polaris married a woman that he found when he was with the Thunderbirds. After killing Polaris' wicked step-father, the young man and his wife lived as hummingbirds. Eventually, they memorialized their relationship by becoming the Pole Star and the Little Dipper respectively.7 Some constellations commemorate famous events. Once a tribe of witches molested their human neighbors, who called on Turtle to deliver them. Turtle contested the witches in many forms of competition and won every time, so the witches sued for peace. They had to agree not to bother their neighbors again. To commemorate this victory, the council at which the peace was made was set in the heavens, with Turtle as the central star, and the witches forming the surrounding stars.8

The Hocągara, like the ancients, classified planets as stars. These stars were often deities bound up with other natural phenomena. They often had kinship ties to various kinds of Animal Spirits. "The two little spirits of the sun," the Twins, are stellar brothers of the Chief of the Horses, Big Eater. Five of the other brothers were wolves.9 It is said that of the ten offspring of the sun and moon, the tenth is the star near the sun that can be seen in daylight (Evening Star?), and the ninth is the star closest to the moon (the Morning Star?). One of the brothers was a Thunderbird, four were Nightspirits, and others were wolves.10 We are told elsewhere that the ninth offspring of the Sun was Red Star, the tenth was Morning Star. The remaining eight brothers were each a different kind of animal.11 Another source tells us that Red Star is none other than Bluehorn, the famous headless uncle of the Twins.12 In the soteriological myth of Bladder and his brothers, the youngest brother is Morning Star, said to be the founder of the Thunderbird Clan; the seventh brother is the founder of the Wolf Clan.13 He who has Human Heads for Earbobs (Įcorúšika) or Redhorn, is probably the central star of the belt of Orion (Alnilam [ε Orionis]).14 Redhorn is also Hérokaga, a diminutive spirit of the hunt that expresses the spiritual powers of the arrow. He is more closely associated with Thunderbirds and is opposed to Waterspirits. Two of his brothers were stars, the rest were foxes.

The spirit of meteors and comets is Wojijega. His associations are with raccoons, since his comet tail recalls the tail of that animal. In human form he dressed with a raccoon robe and rescued people from starvation. Even as a little boy he was so holy that he could defeat formidable evil spirits.15 He commands ordinary meteors. "The meteors called Shooting Stars are supposed to fall upon the earth, and are the forerunners of war. Those who reside near their place of descent are by them advertized of the intentions of their enemies."16

Links: Polaris, Morning Star, Meteor Spirit, Bluehorn, Redhorn, Black Hawks, Hummingbirds, Spirits, Beavers, Swans, Martens, The Redhorn Panel of Picture Cave. An American Star Map, Gottschall.

Stories: about stars and other celestial bodies: The Dipper, Įcorúšika 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 Star Girl, The Origins of the Milky Way, The Fall of the Stars; featuring Morning Star as a character: Morning Star and His Friend, Little Human Head, Bladder and His Brothers, Grandfather's Two Families, The Origins of the Milky Way; about Polaris (Pole Star, North Star): The Dipper, The Seven Maidens; about the Little Dipper: The Dipper, The Seven Maidens; featuring Wojijéga (the Meteor Spirit) as a character: The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, The Roaster, Wojijé, The Raccoon Coat, The Green Man; with Bluehorn as a character: Bluehorn's Nephews, Brave Man, Children of the Sun, Grandfather's Two Families; mentioning Redhorn: The Redhorn Cycle, The Mission of the Five Sons of Earthmaker, Redhorn's Father, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Twins Join Redhorn's Warparty, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Morning Star and His Friend, The Spirit of Gambling, The Green Man, The Hocągara Contest the Giants, cp. The Cosmic Ages of the Hocągara.

Themes: someone is, or becomes, a star: The Seven Maidens, The Dipper, Grandfather's Two Families, Morning Star and His Friend, Heną́ga and Star Girl, Turtle and the Witches, Įcorúšika and His Brothers, The Star Husband; stars lose their place in the sky: Sky Man, The Fall of the Stars.


1 Charles C. Trowbridge, "Manners, Customs, and International Laws of the Win-nee-baa-goa Nation," (1823), Winnebago Manuscripts, in MS/I4ME, Charles Christopher Trowbridge Collection (02611), Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library, 97.

2 Alan Dundes (ed.), The Study of Folklore (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1965) 450 nt 9.

3 Charles E. Brown, Moccasin Tales (Madison, Wisc.: State Historical Museum, 1935) 1.

4 Paul Radin, "Short Tales," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Winnebago IV, No. 7i: Story #21, "The Falling Stars."

5 Printed in the March 1998 newsletter of the Ancient Earthworks Society of Madison. Credit there is given to Pioneer and Indian History and Legends, University of Wisconsin Arboretum, 1934. Presumably the story was recorded by the Browns.

6 David Lee Smith, "The Origin of the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper," in David Lee Smith, Folklore of the Winnebago Tribe (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997) 28-30.

7 Paul Radin, "The Dipper," Notebook Winnebago IV, #8 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Story 8r: 1-29 = Paul Radin, "The Dipper," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #49-50: 1-267.

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

9 Paul Radin, XI. Untitled, Winnebago Notes, Freeman #3892 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1909, recopied and corrected, 1945) Winnebago III, #11b: 61-63. Told by Frank Ewing.

10 Paul Radin, "The Sun," Transcripts in English of Winnebago Tales, Freeman #3860 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society)Winnebago IV, #7L: 1-9 (= 78-86 = 978-996).

11 Paul Radin, "Morning Star (Wiragošge Xetera)," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #8: 1-93.

12 Paul Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic. A Study in Comparative Literature, Part I (Basil: Ethnographical Museum, Basil Switzerland, 1954) 80-84.

13 "The Morning Star, A Winnebago Legend," collected by Louis L. Meeker (National Anthropological Archives, 1405 Winnebago, A.D.S., Nov. 22, 1896)

14 Paul Radin, "Incohorúšika," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Notebook #14: 1-67.

15 Paul Radin, "Coon Skin Fur Coat," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Notebook #539: 1-122. Paul Radin, "Wodjidjé," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Notebook #62: 1-50.

16 Trowbridge, "Manners, Customs, and International Laws of the Win-nee-baa-goa Nation," 98.