Star Stories, part 14: Our Clans Among the Stars, Chapter 2
Updated: Sep 8
Waabaagbagaa-giizis / Waatebagaa-giizis (Leaves Turning Moon), September 26, 2021
"Long ago, life for the Ojibweg would follow the circle of seasons. There was a pattern in their movements which could be plotted on a map. Ojibwe people moved from place to place with a purpose and moved in a way that could be predicted. Everything was done in the proper place and at the proper season within the circle."*
The above image, an Ojibwe-oriented storytelling star map, is a free artistic rendering of the Waawiyekamig, the "Round Lodge" as the Anishinaabeg traditionally conceive the cosmos. The image highlights the connections between the seasons on earth and the four main constellations in gichi-giizhig, the upper-world.
The four main constellations in Anishinaabe anang nibwaakaawin (Ojibwe cosmology) are important aadizookaanag (spirit grandfathers; literally "makers of sacred stories."). All four story-makers are directly connected with aandakiiwinan: the circle of seasons.
The GIIWEDIN-ANANG (the "Returning Home Star": called Polaris or North Star on Western star maps) is the brilliant white star in the center of the image – adorning the tip of the tail feathers of the MAANG (Loon) constellation (Ursa Minor/Little Dipper). The loon represents the Ogimaag Doodeman (the clan group of chiefs and spokespersons). In the above illustration we see the motion in the night sky where, viewed from the Northern Hemisphere, the four main season-related constellations (Gaa-biboonikaan, Mishi Bizhiw, Wenabozho, and Mooz) rotate counter-clockwise around the motionless Returning Home Star located in the tail of the Maang.
GAA-BIBOONIKAAN, the Wintermaker constellation – see the Sky Man with outstretched arms holding a medicine bag in his left hand – rules the night skies of biboon, winter, and occupies the celestial place called Orion on the Western star maps. This winter constellation symbolizes the aadizookedjig (the traditional sacred-storytellers of our Nations) and also reflects the spirit powers of the historical waabi-makwa doodem (polar bear clan) since it was this Bear Spirit in the north who represented the medicinal powers of Creation.
Other star constellations and clusters that we can see in the winter sky are: Bagonegiizhig, Hole in the Sky (Pleiades), Ma’iingan, the Wolf (Canis Major), Mikinaak, the Turtle (Capella), and Amik , the Beaver (Gemini).
MISHI-BIZHIW, the Great Lynx, or Curly Tail constellation – depicted as a catlike being with horns on its head and a long curly tail – dominates ziigwan (spring) and emerges as a conglomeration of the constellations named Cancer, Hydra, and Leo on Western star maps. The head of Curly Tail is located in Hydra; its long tail, which curls over his back, is the head and front paw of Leo. Traditionally, when Curly Tail is overhead, it is time for the Ojibwe Anishinaabeg to go ziigwanishi gabeshi (spring camping) and begin the annual process of ziinzibaakwadokewin (making maple sugar). This spring constellation represents the Minisiinoog, or Ogichidaag doodemag (the Defenders or Warrior clan group) on earth.
WENABOZHO (often called NANABOZHO) can be seen during niibin, the summer moons. He inhabits the space named the Scorpion constellation on Western star maps. The Ojibwe Anishinaabeg know Wenabozho, or Nanabozho, as a human-spirit hero and trickster whose parentage was a human as his mother and the Thunder Being as his father.
Wenabozho – here sitting in a birchbark canoe – is depicted with a bow and arrow. He is aiming the arrow at the spring's constellation, Mishi-bizhiw the Great Lynx, also known as Curly Tail. The Wenabozho constellation signals the annual seasonal transition from niibin, summer, to dagwaagin, autumn. When Wenabozho emerges above the horizon, he is engaging in his annual pursuit of Curly Tail. It is believed he does this in order to limit the spring floods that happen in the Great Lakes region during springtime, but since he aims at his prey from a great distance he only succeeds in a non-fatal wounding of the sky lynx. Recovering from his arrow wounds over fall and winter, the Great Sky Lynx regains his strength in spring and redominates the night skies until Gaa-biboonikaan, the Bringer of Winter reappears on the scene. The trickster Wenabozho, who, when on earth, enjoys shapeshifting into a misaabooz or jackrabbit, represents aadizookanag (the sacred story-makers, protagonists of countless stories told during the long winter nights) and also Waabooz doodem, or the Snowshoe Hare/Rabbit clan of the Ojibweg and Bodéwadmik – which is part of the greater clan group of Gaayosedjig (the Providers).
MOOZ, the Moose, in conclusion, has his residence in the same area as the constellation called Pegasus by the ancient Greeks. Like Wenabozho, the celestial moose represents dagwaagin (the fall season) and also Gaayosedjig Doodeman (the Providers clan group on earth), whose members look after the tasks of scouting, hunting, and gathering. Click here to read more about the Mooz clans.
A LIST OF THE ANISHINAABE CONSTELLATIONS CLASSIFIED ACCORDING TO THE FOUR SEASONS:
ZIIGWAN - SPRING
Mishi-bizhiw Gaa-ditibaanowe': Great Lynx, the Curly Tail (Leo and Hydra)
BIBOON - WINTER
Ma'iingan Anang: Wolf Star (Canis Major)
Bagonegiizhig: Hole in the Sky (Pleiades)
Amik Anangoog: Beaver Stars (Gemini)
Mashkode Bizhiki: Bison (Perseus)
DAGWAAGIN - FALL
Mooz: Moose (Pegasus)
Bagonegiizhig: Hole in the Sky (Pleiades)
Madoodoowasiniig: Stones of the Sweat Lodge (Pleiades)
NIIBIN - SUMMER
Wenabozho/Nanabozho: the Great Hare Trickster (Scorpio and Orion)
Mishi-ginebig (Great Serpent): Scorpio
(Animikii) Binesi: Ophiuchus/Libra/Virgo/Serpens
CIRCUMPOLAR - ALL YEAR ROUND
Maang: Loon (Little Dipper)
Gichi-makwa: Big Bear (Big Dipper) (historical; Pre-contact era)
Ojiig Anang: Fisher Star (Big Dipper) (Post-contact era)
Giiwedin Anang (Returning Home Star): Polaris
Gichi-anang (Great Star): Polaris
Ojiig Anang (Fisher Star): Polaris
Manoominike Anang: Wild-Ricing Star (Cassiopeia)
Mikinaak Anangoog: Turtle Stars (Capella)
* Source: The Four Seasons of the Ojibwe.