Now is an outstanding time of year to view what is sometimes referred to as the "Winter Circle" of dazzling stars, which includes Sirius (in Canis Major), Procyon (in Canis Minor), Menkalinan and Capella (in Auriga), and the Twins of Castor and Pollux (in Gemini).
The Winter Circle was previously discussed in a post from 2011, which you can find here.
Now that the moon is declining towards the New Moon of December 22, it will be less and less of a factor in the night sky (it will rise later and later in the "wee hours" of the morning, or closer and closer to dawn, and as it does so it will also grow thinner and thinner), enabling you to really observe the starry sky in all its glory -- and the glorious constellations of winter are at center stage, featuring mighty Orion and the surrounding arc of bright stars mentioned above.
Below is an image from Stellarium.org showing Orion and the stars of the Winter Circle, as they appear to an observer in the northern hemisphere around thirty-five degrees north latitude:
You can clearly make out the silvery band of the Milky Way, running up and to the right in the above image, almost through the center of the screen. Nearly half-way up the Milky Way band, look for the three distinctive stars of Orion's belt, in a tight line angled up and to the right. Following the line of these three stars and extending that line down and to the left you will find Sirius, which is labeled, and which is depicted as the largest star on the above chart, because it is the brightest star in our sky (other than the sun, of course).
From Sirius, you can then trace the arc of stars named above, beginning at Sirius and moving clockwise up to Procyon (also labeled), Pollux and Castor (only Pollux is labeled but Castor is very close, up and to the right from Pollux in the screen above), then Menkalinan and Capella (only Capella is labeled, but Menkalinan is the star you come to first as you arc from Pollux and Castor towards Capella in a clockwise direction). From Capella, you can also cross the Milky Way again and find the gorgeous cluster of the Pleiades (not labeled on the above chart, but more on them in a moment).
This circle of brilliant stars is sacred to the Lakota, and are part of the area of the sky known as "The Heart of Everything That Is." The circle just described was also connected to the concept of the Sacred Hoop, discussed in this previous post. The celestial component of this sacred concept is discussed at length in a book entitled Lakota Star Knowledge, written by Ronald Goodman with help from many Lakota wisdom keepers, and with appendices which quote teachings preserved by Charlotte A. Black Elk.
The book is published by Sinte Gleska University which strives to perpetuate the values associated with the four Lakota virtues of the Lakota medicine wheel and Sacred Hoop, as explained on the back cover of the book. It is a book which those interested in this subject will want to have in hardcopy.
image: Wikimedia commons (link).
As described in the vision of Black Elk, the Sacred Hoop consists of a sacred circle which contains the horizontal road and the vertical road (see discussion in this previous post and this previous post), a pattern which is also very reminiscent of the zodiac wheel crossed by the horizontal line between the equinoxes and the vertical line between the solstices:
Ronald Goodman's book explains that the circle of stars now visible in the night sky make this same Sacred Hoop pattern of a circle divided by two perpendicular lines. The two lines are envisioned as being generated by the line created by the belt of Orion (these stars are known as Tayamni by the Lakota) which can be seen as extending to Sirius in one direction and to the Pleiades in the other direction, and by the line perpendicular to that line which is created by extending the imagined line running between the two bright stars Betelgeuse (in Orion's shoulder) and Rigel (in his foot):
Above, I have sketched in the outline of a rough circle which connects the circle of stars: Sirius to Procyon to Pollux and Castor to Menkalinan and Capella to the Pleiades to Rigel and then back to Sirius. Within it, I have created dashed-lines which cross perpendicular to one another: one line along the line suggested by the belt stars and extending all the way to Sirius in the lower-left and to the Pleiades in the upper-right, and another running from Rigel to Betegeuse (and which can be imagined as continuing through all the way to the other side of the hoop from there).
This diagram is based on those drawn in the Ronald Goodman book in numerous places: I have just chosen to draw it on the stars as seen in the night sky using the image from Stellarium.org. It is hoped that this will help readers to go outside and actually locate this important set of stars.
Perhaps the most remarkable information expressed by Ronald Goodman and the Lakota wisdom keepers he quotes in the book is the fact that this celestial Sacred Hoop has a corresponding reflection on the earth, which the Lakota have recognized since time immemorial -- from before the horse arrived -- and that they would move to specific points on the terrestrial Sacred Hoop at specific times during the year, to reflect on earth the patterns of the stars in heaven, the motion of those stars through the year, and especially the rising of the sun in the different points along its ecliptic path as the earth progresses through its own annual cycle.
The reflection of the celestial Sacred Hoop was found on earth in the region of the Black Hills, or Paha Sapa in the language of the Lakota (I believe that this means "Black Hills").
Below is a diagram based on some of the terrestrial points in this Sacred Hoop, as explained in the book and drawn in some diagrams in the book -- I have chosen to use Google Maps with the "terrain" overlay, to show some of these points in a way that will enable us to visualize these sacred sites as we look at the map:
The first point labeled on the map above, identified with the numeral "1." and a small black arrow pointing to the right (difficult to see clearly at this resolution, but it is pointing to the right) is Inyan Kaga, also called Harney Peak, a very sacred site to the Lakota and one which is central to the vision of Black Elk and to the story of his life which he relates in Black Elk Speaks. The book by Ronald Goodman seems to indicate that Harney Peak is also called Opaha Ta I. This sacred mountain corresponds to the Pleiades, or Wicincala Sakowin.
The second point labeled on the map above, identified with the numeral "2." and a black rectangular outline, contains three peaks in a near-perfect line, pointing towards Harney Peak -- just as the three stars of Orion's Belt (Tamanyi) point to the Pleiades (Wicincala Sakowin). Below, some "zoomed-in" maps will show this in greater detail.
The third point labeled on the map above, identified with the numeral "3." and an small black arrow pointing down, corresponds to Pe Sla, the center of the Black Hills -- an area now labeled as Reynolds Valley on maps.
The fourth point labeled on the map above, identified with the numeral "4." and a small black arrow pointing down, corresponds to Mato Paha, or Bear Butte. This site appears to have been considered the terrestrial reflection of the point marked by the star Capella in the celestial Sacred Hoop.
The fifth and final point labeled on the map above, identified with the numeral "5." and a small black arrow pointing down, is Mato Tipila Paha, or Devil's Tower. This majestic geological formation was considered to be associated with the constellation of Gemini, and the summer solstice. Note that on the zodiac wheel diagram above which I believe can be seen to correspond in many ways to the Sacred Hoop, the sign of Gemini is located immediately before the point of summer solstice. Lakota Star Knowledge explains that prior to summer solstice, all the Lakota would converge on Devil's Tower, for an important gathering which included the most important Sun Dance of the year.
It should be noted that the Sacred Hoop in the sky as shown in my Stellarium diagram must be rotated in order to correspond to the sacred terrain of the Black Hills: the line running from the rectangle at "2." to the Inyan Kaga (Harney Peak) at "1." corresponds to the dashed-line running up and to the right in the star chart, from Orion's belt to the Pleiades.
Below is a closer "zoom" into the area containing Tayamni (Orion's belt) on the terrain:
In this map, we are still "far enough out" that you can see Inyan Kaga (Harney Peak), indicated by the small black arrow to the lower-right of the larger rectangle. If you imagine three peaks within that rectangle, aligned in such a way that they create a mental line pointing to Harney Peak, then you can see that Orion's belt in this map will point "down and to the right" to get to the Pleiades (represented by Harney Peak).
Below, we zoom-in on the area in the black rectangle from the map above:
You should be able to plainly see the three stars of "Orion's belt" -- they are marked with the "hourglass" symbol of a "cone inverted over a cone," which Ronald Goodman explains in his book should be thought of as a vortex over a vortex: the upper vortex being the star and the reflected vortex below representing "the related earth site" (page 2 of the book). I have placed the double-vortex star symbols just below and slightly to the left of each mountain on the terrain map: hopefully you can make out the three peaks, pointing in a line towards Harney Peak (which is not visible in this map, but would be located off the map, down and to the right -- see map immediately above this one).
It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the sacred Black Hills to the Lakota. Their movement throughout the year to the various sites were seen as participation in the renewal of the world. Appendix D of the book contains words from Charlotte A. Black Elk, in which she says that the pattern of movement through the sites in the Black Hills is "traces the renewal of creation and the spiritual regeneration of the Lakota" (50).
Later, she says:
We say that Wakan Tanka created the Heart of Everything That Is to show us that we have a special relationship with our first and real mother, the earth, and that there are responsibilities tied to this relationship. Wakan Tanka placed the stars in a manner so what is in the heavens is on earth, what is on earth is in the heavens, in the same way. When we pray in this manner, what is done in the skies is done on earth, in the same way. Together, all of creation participates in the ceremonies each year.
[. . .]
So, tonight, walk outside and look up. See the Black Hills Sacred Ceremonies of Spring, and you will understand and know why this place is special and stands first among all places of Maka. And return, in the manner the Lakota have done for thousands of years, to the Heart of Everything That Is, to the heart of our home and the home of our heart. 52.
There is much to contemplate deeply in these things. I hope that if you are able to do so you can go outside at this time of year, and observe the stars, and as you do so you can reflect upon the Sacred Hoop and the Heart of Everything That Is.