Western Slope Skies - The Sacred Hoop Asterism

Feb 21, 2020

In the last Western Slope Skies episode, we discussed several aspects of astronomy in indigenous North American cultures. Today we focus on the Lakota constellation The Sacred Hoop.

An asterism is a pattern of stars. Unlike constellations, there is not an official list of asterisms; however, there are many that are widely recognized. One notable asterism in western culture is the Winter Hexagon, comprised of  Sirius, Procyon, Pollux, Capella, Aldebaran, and Rigel. Look directly overhead between 7 and 9 pm at this time of the year.

The Sacred Hoop is almost the same, comprised of Sirius, Procyon, Pollux, Capella, the Pleiades, and Rigel.  While the Winter Hexagon is an asterism in western cultures, its great importance to the Lakota deems it a ‘constellation.’  The Sacred Hoop is the stellar embodiment of the "unending circle of time, space, matter, and spirit."(1)

To the Lakota, the stars at night and the earth in the day are reflections of each other. The Lakota say "They are the same, because what is on the earth is in the stars, and what is in the stars is on the earth."(1) The Sacred Hoop is a reflection of the red clay valley that surrounds the Black Hills.

Slate Prairie aerial view

Within the Sacred Hoop, there are three star patterns of consequence. Tayamni, an animal emerging from the Hoop, consists of the Pleaides as the head, Orion as the backbone and ribs, and Sirius as the tail. The star pattern of Tayamni is remarkably like a bare area called Slate Prairie in the Black Hills. (See image right) Besides being part of Tayamni, the Lakota also call the Pleiades 'The Seven Little Girls.' The Bear’s Lodge consists of the same stars that we know as Gemini. The Bear’s Lodge reflects on earth as Devils Tower.

Each year, the Lakota tribes embark on a journey between spring equinox and summer solstice. During this period, the sun passes through these 3 Lakota constellations - Seven Little Girls, Tayamni, and Bear’s Lodge. As the sun enters each, the tribes would enter the corresponding location on Earth. This journey culminates with the Sun Dance celebration at Devils Tower around solstice.

Western Slope Skies is produced by members of the Black Canyon Astronomical Society. This episode was written and recorded by Bryan Cashion.

Additional resources:

1. “Lakota Star Knowledge: Studies in Lakota Stellar Theology” Ronald Goodman. Page 7. (Thanks to Nick Myers for providing this book!)

http://kstrom.net/isk/stars/startabs.html