and the Stars
aboriginal peoples around the world have studied the skies for thousands
of years, found stories with in their star patterns, and have learned
to recognize, predict, and record celestial events.
California, the native peoples developed art, schools of learning, architecture,
and tribal histories that wove the stars into their lives as much as
the trees, animals, rain, and wind were a part of their life. All around
the world early humankind saw the night sky as a miraculous event that
was a part of their very creation
and often their home after leaving
this life on earth. Their ancestors were seen to dwell in the night
sky as did many of their gods, and some of their mythic heroes as well.
It was a place populated by beings that were powerful, feared, and admired.
It was a place important to understand, come to terms with, and if possible,
gain control over.
the Americas there are stone medicine wheels, elaborate pyramids, ceremonial
structures, and observatories where the earliest Americans observed,
recorded, and celebrated the changes of the stars that marked the changes
in the seasons of every year. In California, on Catalina Island, the
Gabrielino shrines encountered by the first Spanish explorers were decorated
with sand paintings of the sun and moon, demonstrating that the planets
and stars were revered as part of their religious life.
of the few dateable events among the various records of Native Americans
was the 1833 appearance of the Leonid meteor shower. Historically recognized
as one of the greatest meteor storms on record, it made a lasting impression
among the peoples of North America. This same meteor shower takes place
each year around November 17-18th.
Chumash are an example of a peoples for whom study of the stars was
a special mastery. The early Chumash based their entire understanding
of their place in the cosmos on a dimensional astronomical map that
had layers of historical reality and emphasized a relationship to the
stars. Chumash rock art is being closely examined and it appears likely
that there are large cave / cliff side paintings created as maps of
the night sky. Chumash carved ceremonial artifacts show images of the
placement of stars in the sky as part of religious observations. And
the descendants of the prehistoric Chumash have shared their names for
the seasons and mythologies about the stars and the supernatural beings
believed to reside in the heavens with anthropologists.
1910s an anthropologist named John Harrington spent considerable time
visiting with Chumash peoples along the California Channel. He gathered
notes and made recordings of their stories, beliefs, and practices.
His materials are now housed at the Smithsonian, and provide an important
reference point to understanding Chumash culture as it was carried on
by the elders who had survived European contact. Harrington learned
that Chumash villages were governed by a council of 12 astronomer-priests
who each had responsibility for specific functions in each village,
and each one took on specific religious and social responsibilities
one month a year in relation to their observance of 12 month divisions
in the year. These astronomer-priests practiced a Chumash version of
astrology (astrology meaning a study of the stars, with astro meaning
star and logos meaning knowledge ). This group of specialists is called
the Antap Cult.
John Anderson, a Camp Internet Trail Guide, has been studying Chumash
astronomy and astrology and has written a book that offers insights
into Harrington's recordings about the Chumash interpretations of the
heavens, the seasons, and the months of the year that are defined by
the appearance and disappearance of heavenly bodies in the sky. We can
study Dr. Anderson's research and writings, and the following concepts
are interpreted from his work: The Chumash Indians were the largest
native population of California, prior to Spanish occupation of its
rich coastal lands. The Chumash followed an ancient astrological tradition,
based on metaphysical beliefs about the reincarnating soul and its relation
with the heavens (before, during, and after life). Like many European
theologians, the Chumash philosophers taught that the stars and planets
were souls. The brightest celestial objects were believed to be the
souls of deities, and weaker lights in the night sky were souls of the
previously living humans who had ascended to the heavens. This is a
common view held by many prehistoric peoples around the world.
Chumash referred to meteors as Alakiwohoch, which simply meant "shooting
star". They believed a meteor was a person's soul on its way to
the Chumash cosmos, human souls were clustered on the Milky Way, believed
to be the celestial path of the dead. Chumash theologians taught that
these souls completed their celestial journey when they entered a heavenly
paradise located in the western sky, and Point Conception was believed
to be the gateway through which they passed to begin this journey in
the afterlife. Once they reached the heavenly paradise in the western
sky, the souls were thought to stay for a period of rejuvenation when
they were cleansed and restored until ready to return to earth again
by entering the womb a Chumash mother and once again coming to live
among their people along the Channel. When a Chumash child was born
an official called an Alsuglas was consulted and assigned the newborn
a birth name based on the position of the sun, moon and other celestial
bodies in the sky at the time of birth, and were also asked to predict
the destiny of the child. The Chumash are one of many original Americans
who incorporated their beliefs about the sun and stars into their daily
life, into their special religious practices, and into the myths and
legends they handed down from generation to generation.