Western Slope Skies - Same Stars, Different Stories

Dec 11, 2020

The Orion Constellation

Humans have always felt connected to the night sky. Throughout time, we have looked to the  stars and found meaning. We have grouped stars into constellations and attached stories to them.  These constellations were passed down, generation to generation, creating and influencing  culture. However, different cultures haven’t always seen the same things, even in the same stars.  Humans have been looking at the stars of the constellation Orion for thousands of years, yet their  meaning is different in different cultures.


Orion, one of the easiest constellations to see in the winter sky, is visible from November until  April. In December, Orion rises in the east by 8 PM. Look for the line of three bright stars that  form Orion’s “belt.” To the south, you will see a brighter blue-white star marking Orion’s “foot,”  and to the north a bright reddish star at Orion’s “shoulder.” Orion’s location above Earth’s  equator makes it visible from both the northern and southern hemispheres, allowing cultures all  over the globe to interpret these stars.

Perhaps the best-known legend is that of the Greek tradition. The Greeks see Orion as the hunter.  The mighty hunter carries a weapon and a shield; the alignment of three bright stars form Orion’s  belt. Due to Greek influence on western culture, much of the United States and Europe also see  Orion, “the hunter,” in these stars.

The Maori people of New Zealand view Orion’s stars as the Canoe of Tamarereti, a mythical  ancestor. Tamarereti fishes from his canoe all night and draws closer to land (the horizon) as day  breaks. Legend has it that Tamarereti caught a forbidden fish and, while eating it, choked and  died. The Maori use this constellation as a reminder of the need to respect fishing rules created  by the gods.

The Bororo people of Brazil revere a large crocodile-like creature, a caiman, which they see in  the stars of Orion and surrounding constellations. The caiman is one of the most feared animals  in the tropical forests of central Brazil. It holds a prominent spot in the night sky, as it does on  earth.

Orion has been interpreted by people across time and place. These are only a few of the many  stories associated with the stars of Orion. Though we may have different stories, our ability to  look to the stars and find meaning in them is a unifying thread of humanity. Take some time  tonight to reinvent how you see the stars. What do you see in Orion?

Western Slope Skies is produced by the Black Canyon Astronomical  Society. This episode was written and recorded by  Joanne Ensley, Interpretation Intern at
Devils Tower National Monument.