To gaze up at Orion on a clear night, is to see a mighty warrior from ancient times. He shines so brightly on nights when the moon is not too bright as he journeys from the east. As I watch Orion I think about the people of the pueblos. The Tewa call this constellation Long Sash.
The Tewa tribes live in north New Mexico, United States, in the valley of the Rio Grande. They occupy the villages of San Ildefonso, San Juan, Santa Clara, Nambe, Tesuque. Hano, another village, lies in Hopi country in north east Arizona.
The Tewa have sacred ceremonies throughout the year. In the San Juan village, at the summer solstice, the summer cacique (leader of the Summer Society) is accompanied by one of his personal assistants and two members of each of the other societies to conduct one of these ceremonies. They make a pilgrimage of about twenty miles, going west of their pueblo. At Tsi-kumu-pi (obsidian covered mountain), they pray and leave offerings. This is the shrine of Yellow Cloud Man, Ohuwa-fseyi-se, the rain god of the west. Their wish is that their god will distribute these offerings and prayers among all the cloud gods, the sun, moon, stars, and war gods.
One of the constellations the Tewa have legends about is Orion, or Long Sash as they call him. Orion is in many respects the greatest constellation in the sky. Only Crux in the far south has more brighter stars. Hanging from Orion's belt is his sword, consisting of the multiple stars of Orionis, called the Trapezium and the Orion Nebula. This is a spectacular object which can be clearly identified with the naked eye as something other than a star. Using binoculars, its swirling clouds of nascent stars, luminous gas, and dust can be observed.
Long Sash leads his people westward to a new land away from their enemies who were attacking villages, stealing animals and killing families. Once settled in this new land, however, the people began to quarrel and fight among themselves. Long Sash declared "you are hurting yourselves worse than your enemies hurt you. If you are to come to a place of your own, there can be no violence among you. You must decide whether you will follow me or take another trail."
Other Tribal Legends
To the Navajo, First Slender One (Orion) represented planning and consideration.
The Yokut Native American tribe of the California Central Valley saw the three bright stars as the foot prints of the god of the flea people. According to legend, when his five wives became itchy and ran away, three times the god of the flea people jumped into the sky to look for them. When his footprints are seen (stars are visible in the winter months) the flea people grow afraid and go into hiding (dormant). This helped explain to the tribal people why they couldn't count on those stars for guides in the summer months, and why there were no fleas about.
The Seri people of northwestern Mexico call the three stars in the belt of this constellation Hapj (a name denoting a hunter) which consists of three stars: Hap (mule deer), Haamoja (pronghorn), and Mojet (bighorn sheep). Hap is in the middle and has been shot by the hunter; its blood has dripped onto Tiburón Island.
The Aztecs called the belt and sword of Orion the Fire Drill. Its appearance over the horizon served as the signal of the start of their New Fire ceremony.