Song of the Pleiades




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By Julia M. Seton

The Pleiades are one of the interesting constellations of the winter months. Garrett P. Serviss says: "In every age and in every country, the Pleiades have been watched, admired, and wondered at, for they are visible from every inhabited land on the globe. To many, they are popularly known as the Seven Stars, although few persons can see more than six stars in the group with the unaided eye. . . . 

These seven were the fabled daughters of Atlas, or the Antlantides, whose names were Merope, Alcyone, Celaeno, Electra, Taygeta, Asterope, and Maia.   One of the stories connected with them is that Merope married a mortal, whereupon her star grew dim among her sisters. Another fable assures us that Electra, unable to endure the sight of the burning of Troy, bid her face in her hands, and so blotted her star f rom the sky. While we may smile at these stories, we cannot entirely disregard them, for they are intermingled with some of the richest literary treasures of the world, and they come to us, like some old keepsake, perfumed with the memory of a past age.

"The mythological history of the Pleiades is intensely interesting, too, because it is world wide. They have impressed their mark, in one way or another, upon the habits, customs, traditions, language, and history of probably every nation. This is true of savage tribes as well as of great empires. The Pleiades furnish one of the principal links that appear to connect the beginnings of human history with that wonderful prehistoric past, where, as through a gulf of mist, we seem to perceive faintly the glow of a golden age beyond." (Astronomy with an Opera Glass.)

The Indians call them the "Seven Dancers." The legend they tell in this connection, I quote from Ernest Thompson Seton's Book of Woodcraft, pp. 209- 10.

"Once there were seven little Indian boys, who used to take their bowls of succotash each night, and eat their suppers together on a mound outside the village. Six were about the same size, one was smaller than the rest; but he had a sweet voice, and knew many songs; so after supper the others would dance around the mound to his singing, and he marked t ime on his drum.

"When the frosty days of autumn were ending, and winter threatened to stop the nightly party, they said: 'Let us ask our parents for some venison, so we can have a grand feast and dance for the last time on the mound.'

"They asked, but all Were refused. Each father said: 'When I was a little boy, I thought myself lucky to get even a pot of succotash, and never thought of asking for venison as well.'

"So the boys assembled at the mound. All were gloomy but the little singer, who said:

'Never mind, brothers! We shall feast without venison, and we shall be merry just the same, for I shall sing you a new song that will lighten your hearts.'

"First, he made each of them fasten on his head a little torch of birch bark, then he sat down in the middle and thumped away at his little drum, and sang:

" 'Ki yi yi yah 
Ki yi yi yah'

"And faster

" 'Ki yi yi yah 
Ki yi yi yah'

"And faster still, till now they were spinning round. Then

" 'Ki yi yi yah 
Ki yi yi yah

"They were fairly whirling now, and, as the singer gave his last whoop of the last dance on the mound, they and he went dancing over the treetops into the sky; light of heart and heels and head, they went; and their parents rushed out in time to see them go, but too late to stop them.

"And now you may see them every clear autumn night as winter draws near; you may see the little torches sparkling as they dance, the six around the little one in the middle. Of course, you can't hear his song, or even his drum, but you must remember he is a long way off now."

In the Pawnee ceremony of the Hako, there is a song to the Pleiades. Alice Fletcher has translated the songs, putting them into metrical form.

The following might be used on a night when the Pleiades are clear :

"They come to us, they rise, behold! 
Over the marge of Mother Earth 
Into Father Sky, they rise, they rise 
Chakaa,* the silent brethren! 
Ah, 'tis a blessed thing to behold them yonder, 
More blessed yet for us to mount with them, 
To shine together each in his place as they! 
They come to us, they rise, 
We come to them, we rise, 
We as Chakaa mount on high! 
Behold them coming, climbing, 
And we as they, 
Brethren in unity together."

*Chakaa is the Pawnee name for the Pleiades.

Native Ceremonies






Additional Information:

Peer- Level Topic Links:
Bringing in the Fire ] Child to the Universe ] Dance into Manhood ] Naming Ceremony ] New House Dedication ] Peace Pipe Ceremony ] [ Song of the Pleiades ] Sunrise Ceremony ] Thanks to Mother Earth ] Thunder Ceremony ]

Parent- Level Topic Links:
Native Skills ] Totem Poles ] Indian Sign Language ] Indian Ceremonies ] Indian Dance ] Indian Songs ] Birch Bark Dances ] Birch Bark Songs ] Birch Bark Plays ] Indian Games for Boys ]

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Last modified: October 15, 2016.