Native American Zodiac
Past and present, there have been thousands of Native American (First Nations) groups. Notably in the past centuries prior to significant European infiltration, they spoke hundreds of different languages, lived in very different environments, adapted to those environments in different ways with different material cultures, and developed different religious beliefs and cultural astronomies. Some of these nations shared similaries: a reverence for nature is widespread. However, it is incorrect to speak about a "Native American astrology" as though there were an undifferentiated set of Native beliefs. Moreover, the only group to have practiced a cultural astronomy akin to western astrology were the Mayans of Central America.
The Problem of Cultural Appropriation
Vincent LaDuke (1929-1992, aka Sun Bear) from the White Earth Anishinaabeg reservation in Minnesota attempted to bring a sort of pan-Indian cultural astronomy experience to white people interested in the New Age movement. He founded a new group of mostly Euro-Americans, called the Bear Tribe, which popularized Native American culture. Today some half-dozen books on "Native American astrology" based loosely on his model, are in print. While revered by New Age believers for his insights and wisdom, many Native elders and activists criticized Sun Bear’s work as inauthentic and profiteering.
Societies "appropriate" elements of foreign cultures ongoingly, with no harm done. The problem with taking bits and pieces of Native American religion, reinventing, and popularizing them for a largely white audience, however, is that it offends many Native people, who see it as sacreligious in the context of their own traditional worldview and sacred teachings. Moreover, some nations have struggled in the courts to protect their sacred places and observances, and the notion of a Pan-Indian culture with newly-minted beliefs and in which anyone can participate, harms cases based upon ancient culturally-specific traditions. The depth of Native feeling against New Age borrowers, "plastic medicine men" and "white shamanism" can be judged from the 1993 "Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality."
A New Age Zodiac
The following summary of the “Native American Zodiac” is from Sun Bear’s book, Medicine Wheel:, co-written by a white member of the Bear Tribe. It draws on Sun Bear's own Ojibwa (Chippewa) culture, as well as several others in combination, notably modern western astrology. It is best understood as a New Age creation, notably because many First Nations do not even live in areas where medicine wheels, sturgeon, or snow geese are found.
For North American Indians, natural phenomena have always been and remain an important frame of reference for spiritual experiences and practical everyday life. And because they live at a latitude that equates roughly to that of Europe (particularly Southern Europe), they experience similar seasonal rhythms:
- the winter solstice around the 22nd December,
- the summer solstice around the 22nd June,
- the spring equinox around the 21st March and
- the autumnal equinox around the 23rd September.
This influences the basic division of the year which, however, is marked by the winter solstice and not the start of spring. The four resulting seasons are called
- Spirit of the North or Waboose for winter
- Spirit of the South or Shawnodese for the summer
- Spirit of the East or Wabun for the spring and
- Spirit of the West or Mudjekeewis for the autumn.
This cycle is further divided into three Moons (=Months) which are named after twelve animals. Although they are related to the Western zodiac, the terms have their origins in the North American environment. All the symbols in the American Indian zodiac originate from the animal kingdom.
American Indians also consider four to be a sacred number: It traces back to their experience of the four points of the compass, the four winds and the four seasons.
Sun Bear's zodiac and medicine wheel consists of the following animals:
- Red Hawk, corresponds to Aries energy, dynamic and striving towards the future;
- Beaver, corresponds to Taurus energy, sensual and aesthetic;
- Deer, corresponds to Gemini energy, attentive and cautious;
- Woodpecker, corresponds to Cancer energy, domestic and caring;
- Sturgeon, corresponds to Leo energy, powerful and desirable;
- Brown Bear, corresponds to Virgo energy, planning and strict;
- Raven, corresponds to Libra energy, balanced and fair;
- Snake, corresponds to Scorpio energy, devoted and erotic;
- Owl (Elk), corresponds to Sagittarius energy, spiritual and searching;
- Snow Goose, corresponds to Capricorn energy, tenacious and persistent;
- Otter, corresponds to Aquarius energy, clever and communicative;
- Wolf (Puma), corresponds to Pisces energy, hidden and otherworldly.
For unknown reasons, this Native American zodiac has become rather popular in German astrological circles.
- Native American Animal Signs (Nic Gaudette, 2014)
- Sun Bear and Wabun Wind, 1980, Medicine Wheel: Earth Astrology, Simon and Schuster.
Notes and references
- Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality
- Medicine wheels are stone circles or “hoops” used for astronomical and ritual purposes.
- There are no human symbols.