by Cayelin K Castell
The Pleiades, also known as the Seven Sisters in many cultures including the Greeks. These stars carry their Greek names to this day: Maia, Electra, Alcyone, Taygeta/Taygete, Asterope, Celaeno and Merope. Some feel the name Pleiades is derived from the mother of the Seven Sisters whose name was Pleione. Their father was Atlas.
Homer describes Atlas in his poem the Odyssey as “one who knows the depths of the whole sea, and keeps the tall pillars who hold heaven and earth asunder.”
Others feel the name Pleiades comes from a word that means “to sail” as these stars were used by sailors during the height of the Mediterranean sailing season from mid May to early November. (Georgics 1.136-138).
Here is the Greek lineage of the Seven Sisters:
- Maia – eldest of the seven Pleiades, was mother of Hermes by Zeus
- Electra was mother of Dardanus and Iasion by Zeus.
- Taygeta or Taygete was mother of Lacedaemon, also by Zeus.
- Alcyone was mother of Hyrieus by Poseidon.
- Celaeno was mother of Lycus and Eurypylus by Poseidon.
- Sterope (also Asterope) was mother of Oenomaus by Ares.
- Merope youngest of the seven Pleiades, was wooed by Orion. In other mythic contexts she married Sisyphus. On becoming mortal, she faded away after she bore Sisyphus several sons.
The father of the Pleiades or seven sisters, Atlas is also the brother of Prometheus. Like Prometheus, Atlas was punished by Zeus, only Atlas was being punished for siding with the Titans in the war with Gods. His punishment was to carry the weight of the heavens on his back (or his shoulders). Heracles asked Atlas to gather the apples of Hesperides (one of the twelve labors of Heracles) and offered to carry the weight of the Heavens while Atlas gathered the apples.
When Atlas was given the task of carrying the weight of the Heavens, Orion began to pursue the Seven Sisters. Atlas begged Zues to protect his daughters so Zues transformed the sisters into doves, and the constellation of Orion is still pursuing the Pleiades across the night sky. In another version of the story it was the Moon Goddess Artemis who pleaded with Zues to protect the seven sisters.
In the Book Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning Richard Hinkley tells us the Pleiades were associated with the “Seven Doves that carried ambrosia to the infant Zeus.” The Dove has long been associated with the Pleiades and these special birds carry the medicine of Peace.
According to Ted Andrews in his book Animal Speak, doves also carry the medicine of maternity and prophecy. Throughout time many cultures and traditions have viewed doves as romantic messengers carrying the medicine of love. Doves are known as “love birds” and are one of the few creatures in the animal kingdom that are monogamous, mating for life. The males bring their mates the choicest food they can find and both male and female spend many hours grooming each other. Taking time to consider dove medicine whenever planets are with the Pleiades connects us with their message of love and prophecy assisting us in seeing and knowing more clearly what seeds we are sowing in the Garden of Earthly Delight.
Apollo, brother to Artemis is said to have been angered by the hunter Orion and was persuaded to send a huge scorpion to kill Orion. Then, Zeus set Orion the now dead hunter in the heavens in a vain pursuit of the Pleiades through the night sky for eternity, with the constellation Scorpio chasing Orion across the sky.
Artemis as the Moon Goddess passes by the Pleiades once each month enjoying her frequent reunions with the seven sisters. (see Table Below)
These stories are rich with symbolism describing the Turning of an Age when the patriarchy was becoming the dominant force and the matriarchy was dying out. It is interesting to note that the Pleiades play an important role in alerting us to the cross-check on the Turning of A 26,000 year cycle. Find out more HERE
Only six stars are distinctly visible to the naked eye.
The ancient Greeks explained the disappearance of the seventh star in various ways. One story describes the sisters as consorts to gods, with the exception of Merope. She deserted her sisters in shame, having taken a mortal husband, Sisyphus, the King of Corinth.
Sometimes Electra is described as the ‘lost’ star. Her story is she is an ancestor of the royal house of Troy. After the destruction of Troy, the grief stricken Electra abandoned her sisters and was transformed into a comet – something that at that time was consider a sign of impending doom.
Jewish, Hindu and Mongolian folklore share similar stories. It seems these stories are based in an actual event corroborated by astronomical evidence that a clearly visible star in the cluster became extinct towards the end of the second millennium BC.
In the ancient Arabic world the Pleiades were artistically depicted as a cluster of grapes symbolizing the secrets of the universe. Other cultures associated the Pleiades with rain, tears, war symbols, engineering, architecture, and the healing arts.
The Mayans based one of their sacred calendars on the cycles of the Pleiades, or Tzab as it was known to them. It was so important to their cosmology they built pyramids to track the 26,000 year cycle of the Pleiades with the Sun at the Solar Zenith. (More about this HERE)
Many cultures have marked the beginning of their New Year with the heliacal rise of the Pleiades (visibly rising over an hour before the Sun in the morning sky) including the Mayans. The Pleiades for the Māori of New Zealand are called Matariki, and the heliacal rise of these stars signifies the beginning of the New Year. The Mapuche of South America also begin their New Year when Ngauponi (their name for the Pleiades) rises before the Sun representing the birth of new life. This event occurs in June but is the Winter Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere.
In Hawaii this star group is known as Makaliʻi and their New Year begins when the Sun sets in the West and Makali’i (the Pleiades) appears in the East marking the beginning of the Makahiki season – the Hawaiian new year.
Traditional Hawaiian Story about the Pleiades
The ali’i of Hawai’i were the royal class. On the island of Hawai’i near Kona was an ali’i who was greedy and didn’t care about the needs of his people. He begins gathering up all the food on the island and places it in an immense net. He then takes it to the highest part of heaven and hangs it up.
The people are hungry. So they plan how to get their food back. A brave mouse volunteers to help climbing to the High Heavens the little mouse gnaws on the net causing the food contained therein to fall back to Earth. This is how these stars got their name as Makali’i means the ali’i who hung the net of food among the stars.
The season of Makahiki marked by the appearance of the Pleiades or Makaliʻi in the East after sunset begins the traditional Hawaiian New Year when the seasons are changing. This is a time of feasting, regeneration and peace celebrated through appreciation and gratitude.
Pictured here is the Hawaiian Star Line featuring the Pleiades that was also an important of the Hawaiian navigation system.
The earliest reference to the Pleiades constellation is found in Chinese astronomical literature, thought to be recorded around 2357 BCE.
The Japanese refer to the constellation as Subaru (meaning unite), which is a coming together or uniting, as the stars in this constellation appear clustered closely together.
It is thought that the Great Pyramid at Giza in Egypt and numerous Greek temples were oriented to the rising and setting of the Pleiades.
In South and Middle America, the Aztec and Mayan peoples used the movement of the Pleiades as a major component of their calendars. In the Mayan civilization, the constellation would pass directly over major ceremonial centers every 52 years. The temple complex of Teotihuacan, near Mexico City, also shows alignment with the Pleiades.
Closer to home, temples, stones, and other structures here in Polynesia also show alignment to Makaliʻi.
The names for Makaliʻi in Polynesian cultures are very similar. Tahitians call it Matariʻi. It’s Mataiki in Marquesan. The Māori name for it is Matariki.
In the ancient Andes, the Pleiades are called Qullqa (storehouse) and these stars were associated with abundance returning to their sky at harvest-time.
The ancient Aztecs of Mexico and Central America as already mention began their year with the heliacal rise of the Pleiades before the Sun. The Aztecs called the Pleiades Tiānquiztli (meaning marketplace).
A Blackfoot legend as told by Paul Goble is similar to other Native American tales. This version of the story describes the Pleiades as orphans (“Lost Boys”) that were not cared for by the people, so they became stars. Sun Man is angered by the mistreatment of the children and punishes the people with a draught, causing the buffalo to disappear, until the dogs, the only friends of the orphans, intercede on behalf of the people. Because the buffalo are not available while the Lost Boys are in the skies, the setting of the Pleaides was an assembly signal for Blackfoot hunter to travel to their hunting grounds to conduct the large-scale hunts, culminating in slaughters at buffalo jumps, that characterized their culture.
A Cherokee myth (similar to that of the Onondaga people) indicates that seven boys who would not do their ceremonial chores and wanted only to play, ran around and around the ceremonial ball court in a circle, and rose up into the sky. Only six of the boys made it to the sky; the seventh was caught by his mother and fell to the ground with such force that he sank into the ground. A pine tree grew over his resting place.
A Cheyenne myth “The Girl Who Married a Dog”, states that the group of seven stars known as the Pleiades originated from seven puppies which a Cheyenne chief’s daughter gave birth to after mysteriously being visited by a dog in human form to whom she vowed “Wherever you go, I go”.
The Hopi determined the length of nighttime rituals in the winter by observing the Pleiades (Tsöösöqam) and Orion through a kiva entrance hatch as they passed overhead. The Pleiades were depicted in a mural on one kiva wall.
The Kiowa of North America legend of the Seven Star Girls links the origin of the Pleiades to Devils Tower. The seven little girls were chased by bears, and climbed a low rock. They begged the rock to save them, and it grew higher and higher until they were pushed up into the sky. The seven girls became the Pleiades and the grooves on Devils Tower are the marks of the bear’s claws.
The Lakota Tribe of North America also had a legend that linked the origin of the Pleiades to Devils Tower. According to the Seris (of northwestern Mexico), these stars are seven women who are giving birth. The constellation is known as Cmaamc, meaning “woman”.
The Monache people tell of six wives who loved onions more than their husbands and now live happily in “sky country”.
The early Monte Alto Culture, and others in Guatemala such as Ujuxte and Takalik Abaj, made their early observatories using the Pleiades and Eta Draconis as reference; they were called the seven sisters, and thought to be their original land.
A Nez Perce myth about this constellation mirrors the ancient Greek myths about the Lost Pleiades. In the Nez Perce version the Pleiades is also a group of sisters, however the story itself is somewhat different. One sister falls in love with a man and, following his death, is so absorbed by her own grief that she tells her sisters about him. They mock her and tell her how silly it is of her to feel sad for the human after his death, and she in return keeps her growing sadness to herself, eventually becoming so ashamed and miserable about her own feelings that she pulls the sky over her face like a veil, blocking herself from view. This myth explains why there are only six of the seven stars visible to the naked eye.
The Navajo saw the Pleiades (dilγéhé) playing a major role in their stories and ceremonies. In the Navajo creation story, Upward-reachingway, dilγéhé was the first constellation placed in the sky by Black God. When Black God entered the hogan of creation, the Pleiades were on his ankle; he stamped his foot and they moved to his ankle, then to his knee, then to his shoulder, and finally to his left temple. The seven stars of dilγéhé are depicted on ceremonial masks of Black God, in sand paintings and on ceremonial gourd rattles.
The Onondaga describe lazy children who prefer to dance over doing their daily chores ignoring the warnings of the Bright Shining Old Man.
The Skidi Pawnee also saw the Pleiades as seven brothers. They observed the seven brothers, as well as Corona Borealis, the Chiefs, through the smoke hole of Pawnee lodges to determine the time of night.
The Shasta people tell a story describing the children of racoon killed by coyote avenging their father’s death and then rising into the sky to form the Pleiades. The smallest star in the cluster is said to be coyote’s youngest who aided the young racoons.
The Moon and the Pleiades
|Jul 26 2019||11:57:17 PM||PDT||Moon||conjunct||Alcyone/Pleiades||00°Ge16′ D|
|Aug 23 2019||8:03:04 AM||PDT||Moon||conjunct||Alcyone/Pleiades||00°Ge16′ D|
|Sep 19 2019||2:27:24 PM||PDT||Moon||conjunct||Alcyone/Pleiades||00°Ge16′ D|
|Oct 16 2019||7:59:48 PM||PDT||Moon||conjunct||Alcyone/Pleiades||00°Ge16′ D|
|Nov 13 2019||1:15:08 AM||PST||Moon||conjunct||Alcyone/Pleiades||00°Ge16′ D|
|Dec 10 2019||9:16:13 AM||PST||Moon||conjunct||Alcyone/Pleiades||00°Ge16′ D|
|Jan 06 2020||6:40:35 PM||PST||Moon||conjunct||Alcyone/Pleiades||00°Ge16′ D|
|Feb 03 2020||3:59:27 AM||PST||Moon||conjunct||Alcyone/Pleiades||00°Ge16′ D|
|Mar 01 2020||11:52:01 AM||PST||Moon||conjunct||Alcyone/Pleiades||00°Ge16′ D|
|Mar 28 2020||7:09:43 PM||PDT||Moon||conjunct||Alcyone/Pleiades||00°Ge16′ D|
|Apr 25 2020||12:51:30 AM||PDT||Moon||conjunct||Alcyone/Pleiades||00°Ge16′ D|
|May 22 2020||7:07:15 AM||PDT||Moon||conjunct||Alcyone/Pleiades||00°Ge16′ D|
|Jun 18 2020||2:31:23 PM||PDT||Moon||conjunct||Alcyone/Pleiades||00°Ge16′ D|
|Jul 15 2020||10:50:54 PM||PDT||Moon||conjunct||Alcyone/Pleiades||00°Ge16′ D|
|Aug 12 2020||7:18:11 AM||PDT||Moon||conjunct||Alcyone/Pleiades||00°Ge16′ D|
|Sep 08 2020||3:00:24 PM||PDT||Moon||conjunct||Alcyone/Pleiades||00°Ge16′ D|
|Oct 05 2020||9:35:48 PM||PDT||Moon||conjunct||Alcyone/Pleiades||00°Ge16′ D|
|Nov 02 2020||2:32:47 AM||PST||Moon||conjunct||Alcyone/Pleiades||00°Ge17′ D|
|Nov 29 2020||8:49:10 AM||PST||Moon||conjunct||Alcyone/Pleiades||00°Ge17′ D|
|Dec 26 2020||4:05:50 PM||PST||Moon||conjunct||Alcyone/Pleiades||00°Ge17′ D|
|Jan 23 2021||12:16:41 AM||PST||Moon||conjunct||Alcyone/Pleiades||00°Ge17′ D|
|Feb 19 2021||8:37:31 AM||PST||Moon||conjunct||Alcyone/Pleiades||00°Ge17′ D|
|Mar 18 2021||5:21:20 PM||PDT||Moon||conjunct||Alcyone/Pleiades||00°Ge17′ D|
|Apr 15 2021||12:09:18 AM||PDT||Moon||conjunct||Alcyone/Pleiades||00°Ge17′ D|
|May 12 2021||6:17:22 AM||PDT||Moon||conjunct||Alcyone/Pleiades||00°Ge17′ D|