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April 23 2015 sunset Mars Pleiades Venus MoonTonight, April 23, 2015, is an interesting night for sky watchers.  At 8 pm Mountain Time, right after the sun goes down, you may be able to see a parade of prominent star brothers.  Just after Grandmother Sun sets, she is followed by Mars and Mercury, then the Ani Tsutsa (Pleiades Constellation), then the Evening Star (Venus),  and then the crescent Moon.

April 23 2015 sunset Mars Pleiades Venus Moon 9pmMercury and Venus shared a common significance with many Native American cultures.  The significance of Venus has been presented in many previous articles of Native American Antiquity.   It was known as the either the “Morning Star” or “Evening Star” depending upon whether it preceded the sun before sunrise or followed the sun after sunset.  But because Mercury stays near the sun in the same way, it was also known to many Native American Cultures as the “Morning” or “Evening” star.

PleiadesThe curious bright stars of the constellation we know today as the “Pleiades” have prompted many Native American stories.   Depending on your American Indian heritage, you may know the Pleiades as the Dancers, Holy Men, Caribou, Sharing Foxes, Brothers in a Boat, Crying Children, Coyote’s Daughters, People in a Boat, Raccoon’s Children, Hearts of the First People, Wise Men, Seeds, Puppies or Lost Children (from Indian Country Today Media Network).

The Cherokee called them the Ani Tsutsa, or the Seven Children (Read more here).   In the legend of the Ani Tsutsa, eight boys were scolded by their parents for spending too much time playing the game Chunkey.  They rebelled by dancing into the sky (seven escaped, but one was pulled back down by his mother) to become the Seven Brothers, or Seven Boys.  An interesting side note to this story: in ancient times, eight stars were prominent in this constellation, but over time one faded.

I also find it interesting that even though we see the Pleiades Constellation as mainly seven stars, there are actually millions that were all born out of the same  Interstellar Nursery over 100 million years ago.  That is, they were all formed from the same gas and dust cloud making them, in fact, “brothers” or stellar siblings.

E - skidi Pawnee Star ChartBecause Venus is closer to the sun than the earth, it will always be near the sun and consequently, only a crescent moon will ever cross its path.  To learn how important the Morning Star can be to a culture, read the article “Pawnee Morning Star Ritual”.   The night sky was so important to the Pawnee and was so critical to their rituals, that they created a “star chart” and kept it in a sacred bundle that was only opened for special sacred ceremonies.  If you look closely, you may be able to make out some constellations familiar to us today including The Milky Way, Big Dipper, Little Dipper, Pleiades.   They would have known these star patterns by a different name.  For instance, the constellation we know as Scorpius was known to them as three different groups.  The main body of the Scorpion was “The Snake”; the two stars that are the “stinger” were known as the “Swimming Ducks”.  The upper half of Scorpius was known to the Navajo as Atse Etsoh (First Big One), a Navajo Elder.

D - Atse Ets' ozi Orion002

Orion, Atse’ Ets’ozi’ to the Navajo

To the left of the “parade” is the constellation we call “Orion” today.  Orion was a Greek warrior and many Native American cultures also saw a warrior in the pattern of stars.

B - navajo_astronomy - CopyAlso appearing with the “parade” is another constellation we know today as “Cassiopeia”.  The Navajo called this constellation Nahooka Bi’aad, or Revolving Woman.  They linked it to the Big Dipper which they linked to the Big Dipper, or Nahookos Bi’ka, or Revolving Man.  For the Navajo, the position of these two told them the seasons.  [see “Cosmic Revolution”]

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