Star Stories, part 15: They Go With Someone in a Canoe
Updated: Feb 17, 2022
Waabaagbagaa-giizis / Waatebagaa-giizis (Leaves Turning Moon), September 22, 2021
The Ojibwe story of Orion's Belt
Boozhoo! Today's story, the 15th in a series named "Star Stories," is about Aadawaa'amoog - also called Odaadawaa'amoog -, the three star asterism in the constellation of Gaa-biboonikaan, the Bringer of Winter. This well-known and beloved winter star constellation is located on the celestial equator and visible from across Anishinaabewaki (Land of the Anishinaabeg Peoples) in the night sky. He is a prominent figure in our aadizookaanan (sacred stories), and known among the Peoples of the Northwoods as a mighty hunter, an expert canoeist, and a trickster hero.
The Winter Bringer can be found in the same area as the constellation that was named Ὠρίων (Orion) by the ancient Greeks. The Winter Bringer uses many of Orion’s stars; as its arms stretch from Aldebaran (in Taurus the bull) to Procyon the Little Dog Star, it embraces the whole of the winter sky. Our ancestors knew that the presence of Gaa-biboonikaan heralded winter; when spring appeared, Gaa-biboonikaan sank into the west.
The three stars in the middle of the Winter Bringer constellation are so close together they look as if they could be a hunter’s belt. The Arabs named these stars Alnitak (zeta Orionis), Alnilam (epsilon Orionis), and Mintaka (delta Orionis). By following a straight line from right to left through Gaa-biboonikaan’s belt, a path can be traced to Giizhig-anang the brightest star in the evening sky, within the constellation Ma’iingan (Canis Major). Giizhig-anang is called Sirius on the Western star maps.
The place where life is born
The three stars that make up Orion's Belt (the three blue stars depicted in the figure of the Bringer of Winter, portrayed here as a Medicine Man with an otter medicine bag in his left hand) are imagined to be aadawaa'amoog: spirits traveling the Jiibay Ziibi in celestial canoes.
This "River of Souls," called Milky Way in the English language, was believed to be the "spirit path" that the souls of deceased humans followed to the spirit world after death.
The middle star in the Aadawaa'amoog asterism, named Alnilam by the Arabs, is called Waakwi by some.
Waakwiing means "In the Land of the Deceased."
This Land of the Deceased has been associated with a far-away place where one can commune with the spirits. It is also a place where life is born in the Ojibwe cosmology.
It is our seeing the three stars of the aadawaa'amoog asterism that puts us in touch with the celestial spirits that live up there. Looking at these stars makes us realize that we are alongside of our loved ones that ventured to these stars after their time on Earth was up.
Illustrations by the author. ©2021 Zhaawano Giizhik.