Gateway to the Classics: Canadian Wonder Tales by Cyrus MacMillan
Canadian Wonder Tales by  Cyrus MacMillan

Star-Boy and the Sun Dance

O NCE long ago, when the Blackfeet Indians dwelt on the Canadian prairies, it happened that a band of the people were camped near the mountains. It was spring-time, and the warm winds blew over the prairies laden with the scent of wild flowers. One hot cloudless night two girls slept in the long prairie grass beside their tents with no covering but the sky. The elder awoke before dawn, and saw the Morning Star just rising. Very beautiful and bright he looked in the clear morning air, with no smoke or dust to hide him. The girl looked long at the Star, and she had strange fancies, and imagined that he was her lover. At last she called her sister and said, "Look at the Morning Star. He is bright and wise. I love only the Morning Star, for he is more beautiful than man."

One day in the autumn when the flowers were faded and the grass was yellow with age and the cool winds blew over the prairie and the birds were flying south, as the girl was returning home from a long walk she met a young man on the trail. In his hair was a yellow plume, and in his hand a small shrub with a big spider-web hanging to it. He was very beautiful, and he wore fine clothes of soft skins, and the odour of his dress was that of the sweet-grass and the pine. As the girl drew aside from the trail to pass, he put forth his hand and stopped her. "Stand aside," she said, "and let me pass." But he answered, "I am the Morning Star. One night in spring when the flowers were blooming, I saw you sleeping in the long grass outside your tent, and I loved you. I heard you say you loved only me, and now I have come to ask you to come with me to the sky to the home of my father, the Sun, where we shall live together and you will have no more troubles nor cares. It is the Land of Little People, the Land of the Ever-Young, where all are happy like children, and no one ever grows old." Then the girl remembered the hot cloudless night in the spring-time when she slept in the tall grass, and she knew now that Morning Star was to be her husband.

And she said, "I must first say good-bye to my father and mother." But Morning Star said, "There must be no leave-taking," and he would not let her go home. He fastened his yellow plume in her hair, and gave her the shrub to hold. He told her to place her feet upon the lowest strand of the spider's web and to hold the uppermost strand in her hands. Then he told her to shut her eyes. After a brief time when he asked her to open her eyes, they were in the sky. They passed on to a large tent. Morning Star said, "This is the home of my father and mother, the Sun and the Moon," and he asked her to enter. As it was day, the Sun was away on his long journey, but the Moon was at home and she welcomed the girl as her son's bride. And the girl lived happy in the Star country with her husband, and she learned many wonderful things. Not far from her home, near the tent of the Spider Man who weaved webs, a large turnip was growing about which she wondered greatly. But the Moon seeing her wonder said, "You may dig any roots that grow in the sky, but I warn you not to dig up the large turnip. If you do, unhappiness will follow you."

After a time a son was born to the girl, and everywhere the girl went she carried the child. She called him Star-Boy. She often saw the large turnip near the tent of the Spider Man who weaved webs, but mindful of the Moon's warning, she was afraid to touch it. One day, however, her wonder overcame her, and she decided to see what was underneath the turnip. She tried to pull it up but it stuck fast, and she was unable to move it. Then two large cranes, flying from the east, came to her aid, and catching the turnip with their long bills they moved it from side to side, loosened it, and pulled it up. The girl looked through the hole, and saw the earth far beneath her. It was the same hole through which Morning Star had brought her to the sky. She looked long through the hole, and she saw the camps of her people, the Blackfeet, on the plains far below. What she saw was well known to her. It was summer on the prairies. The men were playing games; the women were tanning skins or gathering berries on the rolling hills. She grew very lonely as she watched, for she wanted to be back on the green prairies with her own people, and when she turned away to go home she was crying bitterly.


the girl looked through the hole, and saw the earth far beneath her.

When she reached home, Morning Star and his Mother the Moon were waiting for her. Morning Star at once knew from her face what had happened, and he said, "You have pulled up the sacred turnip." When she did not answer, the Moon said, "I warned you not to dig it up, because I love Star-Boy and I do not wish to part with him." It was day, and the Sun was away on his long journey. When he came home in the evening, he asked what was the matter with his daughter for she looked sad and troubled. And the girl answered that she was lonely because she had looked down that day upon her people on the plains. Then the Sun was very angry, and said to Morning Star, "If she has disobeyed, she must go back to her people. She cannot live here." Morning Star and the Moon pleaded with the Sun to let her remain, but the Sun said that it was better that she should go back to the prairies, for she would no longer be happy in the sky.

Then Morning Star led the girl to the house of the Spider Man who had weaved the web that had drawn her up to the sky. He placed Star-Boy on her breast, and wrapped around them both a bright robe. Then he bade them farewell, saying, "We will let you down where your people on the plains can see you as you fall." Then the Spider Man with his web let her down as she had come, through the hole in the sky.

It was a hot still evening in midsummer when the girl returned to her people. Many of the people were outside their tents, and they saw a bright light in the northern sky. They watched it slowly drop until it reached the ground. They thought it was a shooting star. They ran to the place where the bright light fell, and there they found a strange bundle, inside of which were the woman and her child. Her parents knew her, and she returned with them to their home and lived with them. But she was never happy. Often she took Star-Boy to the top of a high hill in the west, where she sat and mourned for her home in the sky. And daily she watched Morning Star rise from the plains. Once she begged him to take her back to the country of the stars, but he answered, "You disobeyed, and therefore I cannot take you back. Your sin is the cause of your sorrow, and it has brought great trouble to you and your people."

So the Star-woman lived alone and unhappy upon the earth because she had disobeyed. After a time she died, and her son, Star-Boy, was left alone. Although born in the home of the Sun, he was very poor. He had little of the world's goods, and but few clothes to wear. He was so timid that he never played with other children, and he lived much by himself. On his face was strange scar which became more marked as he grew older. Because of this and his shy and timid ways, he was laughed at by everybody; other boys stoned him and abused him and called him Scarface.

When Star-Boy became a man he loved a girl of his own people. She was very beautiful, and many young men wanted to marry her, but she refused them all. She told Star-Boy that she would not marry him until he removed the strange scar from his face. He was much troubled by this answer, and he talked about it to an old medicine-woman who knew many things. The medicine-woman told him that the scar had been placed on his face by the Sun, and that only the Sun himself could take it off. So he decided to go to the home of the Sun.

He went across the prairies and over the mountains for many days, meeting many dangers and suffering great hardships. At last he came to the Great Water in the West—the Pacific Ocean. For three days and nights he lay on the sand fasting and praying to the Sun God. On the evening of the fourth day he saw a bright trail leading across the water to the west. He ran along this path across the water until he came at last to the home of the Sun, where he hid himself and waited. Early next morning the Sun came out of his tent, ready for his day's journey. He saw Star-Boy, but he did not know him, for Star-Boy had grown since he left the country of the stars. The Sun was angry when he saw a creature from the earth, and calling his wife, the Moon, he said, "We will kill him, for he comes from a good-for-nothing race." But the Moon, being kind, prevented it and saved the boy's life. Then Morning Star, the boy's father, handsome and bright, came from his tent. He recognized his child. And, after the usual fashion in the sky, he brought dried sweet-grass and burned it so that the smoke curled around the boy and cleansed him from the dust of the earth. Then he brought him to his father and mother, the Sun and the Moon, and told them who the boy was. And Star-Boy told his story of his long journey, and of the marriage refusal of the girl he loved because of the scar on his face. And they took pity on him, and promised to help him.

Star-Boy lived in the home of the Sun and the Moon with Morning Star. Once he went hunting and killed seven large birds which had threatened the life of his father. He gave four of the dead birds to the Sun and three to the Moon. And the Sun, glad to be rid of these pests, resolved to pay him well for his work. As a reward, he took the scar from his face, as the medicine-woman had said. And he made him his messenger to the Blackfeet people on the Canadian plains, and promised that if they would give a festival in his honour once a year, he would heal their sick. The festival was to be known as the Sun Dance. He taught Star-Boy the secrets of the dance and the songs to be used in it, so that he could tell his people. And he gave him two raven feathers to wear, as a sign that he came from the Sun, and a very wonderful robe. And he gave him a magic flute and a wonderful song, with which he could charm the heart of the girl he loved.

So Star-Boy returned to his people, the Blackfeet of the plains, running along by the Milky Way, the short, bright path to the earth. When he had taught them the secret of the Sun Dance, he married the girl he loved, and the Sun took them back to live with him in the sky. And he made him bright and beautiful, just like his father Morning Star, and gave him work to do. Sometimes the father and son can be seen together in the sky; the people of earth sometimes call the father Venus, and the son Jupiter, but Indians call them Morning Star and Little Morning Star. And since that time, once a year, the Blackfeet of the plains hold the Sun Dance that their sick may all be healed, as it was promised to Star-Boy by the Sun God in the old days.

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