Between Us and the Stars

The night sky is a fantastic sight, stars moving across the sky, twinkling and shining. It feels as if we are related to the stars, they are like watchful grandparents. The stars have been there for millennia, watched by our ancestors and the stars watching back.

Our ancestors wrote stories in the stars even before there was ink or paint. These stories are carried by us today in our constellations, in the stars and planets, in ourselves.

In the northern hemisphere, there are stories in the stars about bears, people , gods. The Greek and Roman traditions tell of Zeus grabbing a bear by its short tail and spinning the bear around and around. Zeus hurls the bear into the sky. In doing so, the bear’s tail is stretched and lengthened. The bear becomes Ursa Major. We have codified that constellation and story into one of the 88 constellations adopted by the International Astronomical Union.

The bear is found in numerous other stories. The Mi’kmaq people of eastern North America tell a story of a bear too. Story here. In this story we see and learn about bears and nature, about the cycles of the seasons and cycles in nature and of life. The story follows the movements of the stars throughout the year, relating the stars above with life on Earth. The story braids knowledge of the sky and the seasons with knowledge of animals and human ethics.

The Cree people tell a similar story (link) as the Mi’kmaq story. The differences between the stories relate to the morals and ethics expressed in the stories. There are different animals as well to the connect the stories to the place where the peoples live. These stories are part of us and the land.

It is telling us something that these star stories of bears are coming from many different peoples around the world. The stories were not learned from European settlers nor did Europeans take the stories from Indigenous peoples. It is possible that the stores evolved for millennia from stories told by peoples migrating tens of thousands of years ago or even longer. Or maybe these stories simply evolved independently with the only connection between the stories being the bear. We don’t know, but we do know that these different stories remind us that we are connected to each other as people and we are connected to place. The stories remind us that as we continue to damage the Earth with pollution, we only damage ourselves.