On Looking Up this week, Bruce Bookout speaks about the mythical Thunderbird and the thunderous Navajo legend behind it.
The mythology of the thunderbird is wide and various across America and Canada. Navajo legend holds that the Thunderbird carries all the clouds in its tail and rain under its wings. Thus when the Thunderbird constellation is shining brightly in the spring sky, the rainy season has arrived.
The Navajo pronounce Thunderbird as - Ii’ni (Ee knee) and is a difficult specific constellation to find. It is often spoken of as many smaller constellations and yet one encompassing a large part of the sky. The essence of the Thunderbird constellation is depicted as a feather containing six stars. Each star represents a month and can be identified with the morning heliacal rise of a bright star in the East, starting with Denebola in Leo and continuing through the rising of the great square of Pegasus in late March. Ii’ ni’s body dominates the skies during the rest of the summer. Multiple other constellations are depicted as smaller thunderbirds across the sky, including Cygnus, Aquila, Pegasus and Ophiuchus.
To the Navajo, the appearance Ii’ ni in the sky awakes life processes and the emergence of spring. The Thunder constellation manifests the intricate interconnection of all life in the universe, animals, plants, humans, thunder and lightning.
Thunderbirds are Go!
If you’d like to take a closer look at the Thunderbird, or any of the other wonderful and amazing things in the sky, please visit csastro.org for a link to information on our monthly meetings and our free public star parties.