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Ask a person the reason why early cultures divided the sky into constellations and most will say the typical reasons: to tell directions or to tell the seasons or maybe to tell time. They would all be grade-A answers.
It was also a way of handing down cultural tales of heroes, telling of the great deeds. Of course, there is the legend of those mythological gods and their daytime soap opera life styles. You know the stories—they read like a tabloid at the checkout in the grocery store. Unbelievably, most were to teach a lesson about good behavior, I guess, by showing us what not to do you would learn how to act.
There are some saving grace stories in the sky, some stories that show us a good way to handle ourselves in life without a soap opera storyline, just good wisdom.
A morally correct lesson with no daytime soap stories is the story of the Revolving Male and the Revolving Female. These are two little known names for two classic star shapes that most people can find. We know Revolving Man as the Big Dipper. Yep, it has yet another name and claim to fame. The Revolving Female is none other but the queen herself Cassiopeia or as some would refer to the star studded shape as the “W.”
Before we get into the story, here is the “where” of the story and the “who.” In the springtime, you can find both directly over the trees in the northern sky just after sundown. That is where the story takes place; and for who told the story, the answer would be the Navajos told the story and still tell the story. For them, it was a reasonable way to live a family life.
As the story unfolds, we find our family together around their fire. The fire is the North Fire or commonly known Polaris or the North Star. In the spring night, Revolving Man is on the right side or west side of North Fire. Revolving Female is on the left side or the east side. The two are in an eternal dance around North Fire. They move counterclockwise around the fire. This motion symbolizes the union of a man and woman, the significance of the union, and the family responsibilities of the man and woman. The circle that the couple make in the sky was used for the shape of “the Place Home” or Hooghan. A Navajo dwelling structure had many family uses and as in the sky, one fire meant one family per Hooghan.
The stars enter the sky in the east, so do the Navajo enter “the Place Home” from the east and as the stars move counterclockwise so too Revolving Man and Woman move counterclockwise. Now that is a great star lesson, one family moving forever around their eternal fire. The book “Star Trails: Navajo” by Don Childrey is a good starting place for research on alterative names of the big dipper and other Navajo star sagas.
That was a perfect lesson and no soap opera overtones. Well, there is a good twist at the end of the story for those who like a twist. There is only one family and one fire that means just one female. The Navajo thought that there was only enough room for one female per house as written in the sky; therefore, no in-laws allowed not even if you have a good relationship like I do with my in-laws, after all it is written in the stars. Check out the Ingram Planetarium Web site for star charts to find the happy family.
Mark Jankowski is a senior technician at Ingram Planetarium. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 575-0033.