Polaris, the Star that does not Move
by Richard L. Dieterle
In Hočąk, Polaris (the North Star) is known as Wiragóšge Hąke Tiráni, "the Star that does not Move" (compare Crow, Ihaxadjíse, "the Star that does not Move").1 This is because the Pole Star is the northern point of the axis around which the celestial sphere of stars rotates.
Once Polaris lived as a human being. He was the son of a chief, but during a war, his whole village was rubbed out. The enemy warleader adopted this sole survivor, and the two lived in the empty village alone. The child did not know the identity of the old man until one day the boy's elder brother, in spirit form, told him that his grandfather was the one who wiped out his family. The grandfather sent the boy on a number of Bellerophonic missions, but the boy succeeded in every case. He won the name "He Stands Looking at Black Hawk," probably a reference to a nearby constellation corresponding to the Dakota Thunderbird asterism. He then went out to court (Nightspirit?) women. He fell in with some Thunderbirds, but they stayed behind as he went into the village. Soon he returned with a number of women following him. He married the youngest of these. Then his grandfather said that a dream commanded him to shoot at Polaris, and that the boy was to be held in place by two of the women. However, the women were sympathetic to Polaris, and helped him dodge the massive arrows that the old man fired at him. Later Polaris learned that if the old man ate a beaver, then he would surely die; so he told the grandfather that he had a dream in which the spirits instructed him to make a feast and that if the old man did not eat it all, the spirits commanded the boy to strike him with a warclub. Thus the old man had to eat every bit of the beaver meat. As a consequence his stomach split and he died. Afterwards the young man brought his older brother back to life with a revitalizing sweat bath. The young man and his wife lived for a time as hummingbirds, then they became stars. She is what they call "the Big Dipper," and he is the bright star at the end of the handle.2
In another story, Polaris is an evil spirit that chases after the seven maidens who make up the Big Dipper. Even though the girls are guarded by the warriors that comprise the stars of the Little Dipper, Polaris almost catches them. However, Earthmaker intervenes and drops Polaris on the spot. All the figures in the story are then made into stars.3
Polaris can become a black hawk or hummingbird because he exemplifies the perfection of flying technique expressed in the aerobatics of these birds. He is most particularly a hummingbird because, like all birds of that sort, the fixed Pole Star can hover motionlessly in the same spot. As a creature of light with affinity for darkness, Polaris has a kinship to Thunderbirds, although ironically he is struck down by a thunderbolt, albeit one wielded pardoxically by Earthmaker rather than one of the Thunders.
Links: Celestial Spirits, Earthmaker, Thunderbirds, Nightspirits, Black Hawks, Hummingbirds, Beavers, Swans, Martens.
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 Star Girl, The Origins of the Milky Way, The Fall of the Stars; about the Little Dipper: The Dipper, The Seven Maidens; mentioning Thunderbirds: The Thunderbird, Waruǧábᵉra, 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 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, Black Otter's Warpath, 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, The Origins of the Milky Way; mentioning black hawks: Hawk Clan Origin Myth (v. 2), The Dipper, The Thunderbird, Partridge's Older Brother, The Woman who Loved her Half-Brother, Waruǧábᵉra, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Morning Star and His Friend, The Race for the Chief's Daughter; mentioning hummingbirds: The Dipper, The Thunderbird, The Race for the Chief's Daughter; mentioning beavers: Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp, White Wolf, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Dipper, The Chief of the Heroka.
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, Įčorúšika and His Brothers, The Star Husband.
1 Mary Carolyn Marino, A Dictionary of Winnebago: An Analysis and Reference Grammar of the Radin Lexical File (Ph.D. Thesis, University of California, Berkeley, December 14, 1968 [69-14,947]) 421, sv. wi.
2 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.
3 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.