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Star Stories, part 36: When Oshkaabewis Travels the Wolf Trail

Updated: Jan 12

Manidoo-Giizisoons (Little Spirit Moon) (December 29, 2023)


Oshkaabewis Follows the Wolf Trail painting by Zhaawano Giizhik


Boozhoo, aaniin! Welcome to part 36 of a blog series titled "Star Stories," in which I connect my and kindred artists' storytelling art – in the form of rings, jewelry, and graphic art – with the star world as perceived by the Anishinaabeg Peoples, who since time immemorial inhabit the northern regions of Turtle Island – nowadays called Canada and the United States.

Today's story is about the smallest planet of our Galaxy, called Oshkaabewis in Anishinaabemowin, the Ojibwe language. Called Mercury or Solis planet 1 in Western astronomy, Oshkaabewis, or Oshkaabewis Gezhiibatood, is the smallest planet in the Solar System and the closest to Giizis, the Sun. Like Waaseyasiged Azhebaashkaabizod Aki (Venus), Oshkaabewis Gezhiibatood orbits Giizis within Earth's orbit, making it appear in Earth's sky only as a "morning star" or "evening star" that is relatively close to Giizis.

Why is this planet called Oshkaabewis Gezhiibatood?

In Anishinaabe culture, Oshkaabewis has several meanings, such as waiter, ceremonial helper or messenger, and pipe bearer. The name Oshkaabewis Gezhiibatood is a reference to a fast-running messenger ("gizhiibatoo" is an Ojibwe verb meaning (s)he runs fast). The term is a neologism as it refers to the name the ancient Romans gave to this planet. The Romans named the planet after the swift-footed Roman messenger god, Mercury (Mercurius), whom they equated with the Greek Hermes, because it moves across the sky faster than any other planet. To the Romans, Mercury was the God of communication and knowledgeability. The "gezhiibatood" part of the name is therefore a metaphor for the quality of quick comprehension and the ability to swiftly interchange ideas and information...

As the end of 2023 draws near, we will witness the year’s third and final retrograde of this planet. Oshkaabewis Gezhiibatood follows the Wolf Path (travels retrograde) from December 13 to January 1, 2024.

What does retrograde mean and how did our ancestors view this phenomenon?

The usual motion of planets as they wander on the celestial sphere is eastward against the background stars. This is called "Direct" Motion." However, at times the planets appear to move westward for some period on the celestial sphere; this is termed "Retrograde Motion." When the Earth overtakes an outer planet, that planet appears to travel backward or be in "retrograde" compared to the stars for a time.

In the cosmology of our ancestors, Ma’iingan Miikana (Wolf Trail) was used to describe the phenomenon of the retrograde motion of planets. Our ancestors observed that a few times a year certain planets – such as Waaseyasiged Azhebaashkaabizod Aki (Venus) and Oshkaabewis (Mercury) – travel retrograde (westward) in relation the stars.

Up until today, this phenomenon, of aadawaa'amoog azhe'osewag (planets seemingly traveling the opposite path), is known as Ma'iingan Giizhig Miikana: the Wolf Sky Trail.

Why is a retrograde motion of planets called Wolf Trail? As keen observers of nature, our ancestors noticed that, although ma'iinganag (wolves) usually travel in packs, sometimes a lone wolf rebelliously sets off in a different direction for a while to hunt for moozoog (moose) before eventually rejoining the pack. This is why they saw Ma’iingan’s presence on earth mirrored in the night sky as Azhe'ose: A moose-hunting Contrary walking the backward path as it is disobeying the rules of the other Sky Beings.

The backward orbit of Oshkaabewis Gezhiibatood around the Sun tells us, as the year 2023 is nearing its end, to take the time to slow down, look around, take inventory, and reflect.

Because Oshkaabewis Gezhiibatood completes its orbit around Giizis in only 88 days, the fast-moving planet follows the Wolf Trail three or four times in a calendar year, for about three weeks at a time.

The energy that is released now Oshkaabewis Gezhiibatood runs the Wolf Trail guides and helps all living things and beings on Earth to return to an energy that uplifts and inspires. It tells us, as the year 2023 is nearing its end, to take the time to slow down, look around, take inventory, and reflect...

May the orbit of the Messenger planet around the Sun bring you a good and meaningful ending of 2023!

Miigwech gibizindaw, thank you for listening.


Illustration: " Oshkaabewis Follows the Wolf Trail" - 2023 Zhaawano Giizhik

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