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More Vernal Equinox

March 20, 2019

Spring begins in the northern hemisphere today, as the Sun crosses the equator heading north. For many of us in modern times, that moment — the spring equinox — is little more than a notation on the calendar. But to many cultures in bygone centuries, it was a time for celebration, as the Sun warmed the earth and banished the long, cold nights of winter.

For the Lakota of the Great Plains, the equinox marked the beginning of a new year. They commemorated the event with the start of a journey across the Black Hills. Sometimes, only medicine men or tribal elders made the trek; at other times, entire tribes were involved.

The spring journey celebrated a connection between the stars and the land. Several Lakota constellations represented prominent features in the Black Hills. In fact, one large constellation represented the entire mountain range.

The spring journey began when the Sun entered Cansasa Ipusye — the Dried Willow. The constellation includes stars of present-day Aries, which is high in the southeast as night falls. It culminated at the Hill of the Bears Lodge, a tower of volcanic rock in Wyoming that’s also known as Devils Tower. It’s represented in the sky by the stars of Gemini. Sun Dance ceremonies there affirmed the connection between the people and the sky and celebrated the completion of one full circle of life — and the beginning of another.

Tomorrow: giving the Moon some air.

Script by Damond Benningfield


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