The Way to Rainy Mountain

by N. Scott Momaday

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What does the Kiowa story about the seven sisters and their brother explain?

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The Kiowa myth of the Seven Sisters explains the existence of the Pleiades star cluster, which appears in the North American sky each year at the beginning of winter. The Pleiades is one of the most widely recognized star clusters in the night sky, and it was of critical importance to ancient people, as its appearance in the sky signaled the change of seasons. In the Northern Hemisphere, it signaled the onset of winter, and in the Southern Hemisphere, it signaled the onset of summer. People all over the world recognized its importance, and they assigned it a place in their myths and legends.

Throughout the mythologies of the world, the Pleiades was personified as seven sisters, or seven maidens. It is a cluster of seven stars, only six of which are visible to the naked eye. However, for reasons not fully understood, ancient people recognized the cluster as having seven stars but missing one. Many cultures tell stories of these seven stars, often in an attempt to explain why one of the stars was missing. Other legends of the Pleiades simply explain how the cluster of stars got into the sky in the first place. In Kiowa myth, the Pleiades is also personified as seven maidens. They were transported to the sky by the Great Spirit, who sent them away from the earth to save them from giant bears.

The link below contains a link to the Kiowa legend of the Pleiades.

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This legend explains the creation of the Big Dipper constellation as well as the rock formation called Devil’s Tower in northeastern Wyoming. This story is told in Momaday’s Introduction. Eight Kiowa children were playing in the area. All of a sudden, the only boy in the group underwent an unusual transformation: he became a bear. Immediately afraid of their brother, the seven sisters climbed a tree to get away from him. The bear used his sharp claws to scrape the bark around the base of the tree. The girls were somehow lifted up into the sky. They became the seven stars that make up the Big Dipper. On the ground, the large tree that the bear clawed is now known as Devil’s Tower. The Kiowa passed along this story from one generation to another.

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