Night Sky

Eric Fisher  Sarah Middlemiss  Chloe Desaulniers  Ky Desaulniers  Heather Leask

Figure 1.1 Photo: Algonquin Milky Way by Benjamin Lappalainen

The night sky has had an effect on the life system of many cultures. The connection between celestial phenomenon and humans has held great meaning over the past 40,000 years. Astronomy is thought to be one of the oldest of sciences.  Ancient cultures studied the sky, which lead to several of the celestial events becoming an integral part of explaining the events throughout their lives. How did the difference in the night sky in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres affect the way that indigenous people explained their surroundings and influence their cultures?  We will examine two different ancient cultures, one from the Northern Hemisphere and one from the Southern Hemisphere, to see how the Night Sky helped them to interpret their daily lives.

We chose the two Aboriginal cultures because of their long existence.  They have both been around for over 40,000 years, long before the Greeks were studying astronomy. Because of their long existence the two cultures have some of the first ‘star stories’. Both cultures are not limited to one group of people; there are many different tribes within the spectrum of “Aboriginal People.” This makes it possible to observe many different cultural beliefs in each hemisphere without being restricted in the amount and depth of the stories found. The stories of the sky are considered very important in the lives of Aboriginal people. They are used to describe many cultural and spiritual beliefs. For this reason, if we understand their sky stories we gain more insight to their ways of life.


Within the Northern Hemisphere there are many aboriginal cultures.  The Algonquin culture spans over many other smaller ‘sub-families’ including Mi’kmaq, Ojibway and Cree.  The two stories we have chosen from the Algonquin culture are from the Ojibway people and the Cree people. Here are examples of how the Algonquin culture used the Night Sky to explain the world around them.

Algonquin Story

The Ojibway people call the Milky Way the Pathway of the Souls 6.  They view these stars as the trail taken by the dead as they travel to a place that we cannot know. Each star in the Pathway of the Souls is the home fire of one of the tribe’s members who has died. Every night on their long pilgrimage, the deceased tribe members sit around their home fires telling stories. They look down and watch over the home fires of their loved ones on Earth.

Cree Story

The Cree call the North Star ‘Keewatin’, the Going Home Star.  It’s also known as the Standing Still Star, because of its constancy in the night sky.  Orion’s Belt which is included in the Cree constellation Wisakejak  points towards the Pleiades star cluster4. The Cree people refer to Pleiades as ‘Hole in the Sky’, which is what connects us to the Cosmos. When we come to Earth we are lowered down through the Hole in the Sky to live our life, and to learn what we are intended to learn.  When we die we exit back through the Hole in the Sky to return to the stars4.

Here’s a link to an interview with Wilfred Buck, a Science Educator in Winnipeg who teaches about the science behind Native perspectives of the night sky.

Figure 1.2

Native American people incorporate astronomy into many aspects of their way of living. They associated their lives directly to the Earth and Sky; they searched for meaning in the heavens4. Native American life can be seen in the calendars created to keep track of time. This is evident in the names of the Full Moons6.  The different names for the Full Moons hold meaning for the changing seasons, and what changes will come for that time of year.


Full Moon Names and Meanings:

Figure 2.1

Month         Northern               Southern
January Wolf Moon

Snow is deep; wolf howls can be heard.

   Thunder Moon

Thunderstorms are most frequent in this  month.

February   Snow Moon

Some areas call this Hunger Moon, after a long winter.

  Full Red Moon

Hazy heat causes the full moon to appear  reddish.

March   Worm Moon

Snow melts; earthworms reappear. Some  areas call this Sap Moon.

  Full Fruit Moon

Variety of harvestable fruits are ready in  this month.

April   Pink Moon

Some areas call this Egg Moon, or Fish Moon.

  Full Harvest Moon

Along with hunting, harvest occurs in this  month.

May   Flower Moon

Flowers come into bloom, and corn is ready to plant.

Full Frost Moon

Autumn has arrived, turn to winter has  begun.

June   Strawberry Moon

Picking season reaches its peak.

Long Night’s Moon

The sun is low in the sky and this month  has the longest nights.

July   Buck Moon

Deer start to grow their antlers.

Full Winter Moon

The cold has settled in. Winter is here.

August   Sturgeon Moon

This large fish is most easily caught during this month.

Full Kangaroo Moon

Kangaroos and wallabies have their joeys  emerge from their warm pouches to  explore their environment.

September   Harvest Moon

Many staple foods including corn and rice  are ready for harvest.

  Full Fish Moon

Humidity increases, fish are on the way  to their breeding grounds.

October   Hunters Moon

Animals are fat and ready for eating.

  Full Pink Moon

One of the first flowering plants in the region is Pink Moss, which leads to the name Pink Moon.

November   Beaver Moon

Time to set beaver traps and secure a store of  warm fur.

  Full Flower Moon

Plants are in full bloom.

December   Cold Moon

Winter has settled in, and temperatures  plummet.                                                            Also called Long Night Moon.

  Full Black Swan Moon

Black swans move to more sheltered  areas as the wetlands dry up.

It is obvious that the Native Americans looked for patterns in the night sky to help explain their surroundings and plan their lives4.  They believed that when those certain patterns are disturbed, such as an eclipse, they believed that . The Algonquins explain the lunar eclipse through a story of a brother (moon) and sister (sun) fighting.



Australian Aboriginal Culture

The Southern sky is striking compared to the Northern Hemisphere, often dominated by the magnificent river of the Milky Way.  When the Yolngu people die they are taken by canoe to the Spirit Land in the sky8. The Yolngu believe that you can see their camp fires burning along the edges of the Milky Way. The canoe returns to Earth as a shooting star to show the families of the departed that their loved ones have arrived safely to the Spirit Land. This story bears a striking resemblance to the story of the home fires of the deceased in the Algonquin culture.

Figure 3.1

In many Australian Aboriginal cultures, the Moon is Male and the Sun is Female. One of the stories which helps explain the different phases of the Moon is that the Moon falls ill (the Waning Moon), lies dead for three nights (New Moon), and then resurrects on the third day (the Waxing Moon). They use the sky as a calendar to determine when to move and get new food. (See Figure 2.1)

As in the northern hemisphere, the Australian Aboriginals looked for patterns to explain their surroundings. One of the ways they explained a lunar eclipse was that the Moon and the Sun were making love.


Australian Aboriginal people see Orion as a pack of dingoes chasing a group of kangaroos represented by the Pleiades constellation². Similarities can be drawn between both the Northern and Southern hemispheres with respect to Orion and Pleiades³. Both constellations are used in the same story, and hold significance for both cultures.

Figure 3.3 Be It Hunter, Canoe, Chief or Bison, Constellation Orion Is Our Winter Buddy. (2013, December 28). Retrieved April 01, 2017, from





Figure 3.2 Traditional Australian Aboriginals understood the link between the Sun, Earth and Moon and have many stories to explain it( Source: NASA)

It is interesting to compare the stories of the night sky between different ancient cultures.  Both Northern and Southern Hemisphere cultures used the patterns and pictures in the stars to explain their surroundings, plan their daily lives, explain how the world came into being, and what occurs after we die. In both cultures, these star stories were passed down from generation to generation orally and eventually made into written stories. It is important to remember how these ancient people depended on the star patterns and how their lives were influenced so greatly by the Night Sky.





1Be It Hunter, Canoe, Chief or Bison, Constellation Orion Is Our Winter Buddy. (2013, December 28). Retrieved April 01, 2017, from

2Bhathal, R. (2006). Astronomy in Aboriginal culture. Astronomy and Geophysics,47(5), 27-30. doi:10.1111/j.1468-4004.2006.47527.x

3Bhathal, R. (n.d.). Australian Aboriginal Myths & Legends. Retrieved April 01, 2017, from

4Cree mythology written in the stars. (2016, August 12). Retrieved April 01, 2017, from

5Curnow, P. (2011, December 4). Aboriginal Astronomy. Retrieved April 01, 2017, from

6Full Moon Names and Meanings. (n.d.). Retrieved April 01, 2017, from

7First Nations History. (n.d.). Retrieved April 01, 2017, from

8Gary, S. (2013, October 03). Southern ‘fire’ an omen in Aboriginal culture. Retrieved April 01, 2017, from

9Norris, R. (n.d.). Aboriginal Astronomy: Culture. Retrieved April 01, 2017, from

10Norris, R. (n.d.). Aboriginal Astronomy. Retrieved April 01, 2017, from

11Starchart: First EVER overview of the “Canadian” constellations. (2015, September 18). Retrieved March 25, 2017, from