Old World and North American Parallels

D. Miller (1997) shows some widespread identifications of asterisms among North American tribes, a number of which have Old World parallels, only a few with the zodiac. Some of these identifications may be colonial borrowings from European cultures (Spanish, French, Dutch, or English) but that seems unlikely in many places. The identification of Ursa Major as a bear (largely in Algonquian groups but also in the Plateau) seems involved in chieftainship and ceremonials to an extent unlikely for recent borrowings. The view that Ursa Major is a funeral bier (among Siouans and Inuit) is also found among Arabs, but is not widespread. Aquila as a buzzard is attested in California and probably in the Southwest. Gemini appear as Twins to the Blackfoot and in the Plateau (where, as in Asia, they are a boy and a girl). Corvus in the Subarctic is identified as Raven-Carrying-the-Sun, reflecting the association with Sun as crow or raven from Ireland to China. Orion's Belt appears as a watercraft in the Pacific Northwest and the Plateau, corresponding to Maui's Canoe in Polynesia, probably to a similar idea in Mesoamer-ica, and to Horus's Boat in Egypt. Recent Polynesian contact seems possible as an explanation of this similarity, but the identification as a canoe is not found in Hawaii or the nearer parts of Polynesia. Mountain Sheep as the identification of Orion's Belt is typical of Yumans and Uto-Aztecans in the Great Basin and California, who also often regard it as an arrow. The arrow identification appears in India, where it pierces the giant stag Orion, and Sheep as a name for Orion's Belt is known in Arabia. In India, three deer are identified with the Belt, as they are sometimes in California and the Southwest. Sirius as a dog or wolf appears in astronomy among the Alaskan Inuit (as the Moon Dog), among the Seri of the Southwest, among the Osage, and among the Cherokee—a very broad but clearly incomplete distribution. Miller lists only the Maricopa (in the Southwest) for the identification as Scorpius as a scorpion, despite its prominence in western astrology, perhaps as an indication that there has not been recent borrowing. An asterism, Scorpion Woman, is known from the Chumash, apparently part of Lyra. In Mesoamerica, there were probably two different asterisms called Scorpion, and Scorpion Woman seems to have been an additional asterism. One of these was identified with Scorpius.

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