Since the dawn of man, the sky was our big screen, HD, TV. All of the ancient peoples around the world have observed the sun, the moon, and the stars move across the sky and noticed the subtle changes over time. They noticed that the changes were in cycles that repeated faithfully over and over. And over time they learned that these cycles could be used to predict and guide their future.
Like all the other ancient cultures, Native Americans looked at the many star patterns, connected the dots, and saw familiar objects. They knew that the objects, or constellations, they were viewing on a given night would return to the same spot next year at the same time. The constellation we call Scorpio today, the Cherokee knew as a snake. The Milky Way was known to them as the Cornmeal Path. They knew that in the early morning when the snake could be seen crawling across the cornmeal path in the south and the sun rose due east, it was planting time.
Out west, The Navajo were watching what we call the North Star, Big and Little Dippers. “The Navajo call the unit Nahookos (Na hoe kos). The North Star is Nahookos Bikq (Na hoe kos Bih kwo), which means “Central Fire”. Picture a Navajo hogan with the hearth in the center of the room. Sitting next to the fire would be the father and mother (or grandfather and grandmother). Likewise, next to the Nahookos Bikq are the constellations Nahookos Bika (Na hoe kos Bih kah) which means “Revolving Male” [Big Dipper] and Nahookos Bi’aad (Na hoe kos Bih aad) which means “Revolving Female” [Little Dipper]. They knew that when Grandfather was sitting directly above the campfire at midnight, it was Spring time. [See article “Cosmic Revolution”]
Like their European counterparts, they told stories about the Constellations and those stories were taught to each generation. The stories helped pass on the wisdom and knowledge of the ancestors. There is an old Mother Goose story, or Nursery Rhyme, that we all have heard called “Hey! Diddle, Diddle”. There have been many theories put forward about what it means, but my favorite is that it was a call to the farmers that Spring had arrived!
Here’s how the theory goes. Assume that the characters in the story are constellations; the Cat is Leo, the Fiddle is Lyra, the Cow is Taurus, etc. So, the astronomical translation of the poem would go:
Hey! Diddle, Diddle [Farmers], the Cat [Leo] and the Fiddle [Lyra].
The Cow [Taurus] jumped over the Moon.
The Little dog [Canis Minor] Laughed to see such a sight,
And the Dish[Crater] ran away with the Spoon [Big Dipper].
There is only one time of the year in North America when all of these constellations are visible together and when Taurus crosses the path of the Moon. that is mid March around the time of the beginning of Spring! So, could this popular Nursery Rhyme be a call to farmers that spring has arrived and it is time to plant?
So what is the origin of this Nursery Rhyme?
The earliest recorded version of the poem close to the modern form was printed in London in Mother Goose’s Melody around 1765, with the lyrics:
High diddle diddle,
The Cat and the Fiddle,
The Cow jump’d over the Moon,
The little dog laugh’d to see such Craft,
And the Dish ran away with the Spoon.
Most sources credit Charles Perrault with initiating the “fairy tale” genre when he published “Tales of My Mother Goose” in 1695. But, there is an interesting Boston, Massachusetts connection. Eleanor Early, a Boston travel and history writer wrote that the original Mother Goose was a real person who lived in Boston in the 1660’s. The second wife of Isaac Goose, Elizabeth Foster (Mary) brought six children to add to Isaac’s ten. Early claimed that “Mother Goose” sang songs and ditties to her grandchildren and other children who loved to hang around her to hear them. Her son-in-law gathered her jingles together and printed them. If this is true, it pre-dates Perrault and other publications of “Mother Goose” tales and poems.