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Saturday, February 9, 2019

Beauchamp - Origin of the Pleiades - Keeping the Public in Public Domain

On a wintry day it's good to think ahead to Summer Reading which this year, for those using the Collaborative Summer Library Program, has a theme of "A Universe of Stories."  I love telling nature stories and used many on astronomy back in 2014.  In looking at that material I'm still weighing what will return and what will fade in the sunset since there's only so much time.  (When I was still a children's librarian I needed something new every week, so I'm considering giving some stories here in future weeks not fitting my own needs, but still are fun for audiences.)

The winter sky gives a good view of the Pleiades.  That Wikipedia link shows they're well covered by folklore around the world.  It also shows differing numbers within the star cluster, but I'm fondest of the stories told within the Iroquois Confederation which start with seven dancing boys, but only six are in the sky.  The Confederation or Haudenosaunee, meaning People of the Longhouse, have variations told within those longhouses of long ago.

Today's version comes the closest to the way I tell it, but I have a few variations on it.  I'll give one at the end since it happens there, but here's something I do before I tell it.  I usually say there were seven brothers and, while it's unlikely any parents would plan on having seven children, IF there were seven in a family they might have named each in a way that matches something we know that has seven.  What is that?  It may take a bit, but eventually we all agree there are seven days of the week and I have them dancing and whirling to their names of "Sunday, Monday, Tuesday..."  I judge by the audience whether or not we dare have the kids whirl or just me, but they do join in on the boys chanting their names as they dance since my programs use a lot of audience participation.

My version starts with the boys.
That story came from the Journal of American Folklore as originally published in 1900.  If you want to find many stories about the "Origin of the Pleiades" footnote 71, at the end of Stith Thompson's reprinting it in Folk Tales of the North American Indians gives an incredible number, including the way it was recorded here in my home area of Michigan by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft.

I mentioned there's a bit of an addition I make at the end of the story.  The Seneca, also members of the Confederation, in Arthur C. Parker's Seneca Myths & Folk Tales tell about how in the springtime a tiny green shoot grew in the spot where the "falling star" landed.  It grew tall into the first pine, speaking with its branches to his mother and his brothers in the sky.

By the way, falling or shooting stars are actually meteors, and the rock that lands is a meteorite, so the story covers more than one topic.  I also tie it in to constellations, letting Ursa Major, the Big Bear, guide them into their place with a lullaby to help them feel at home.  Some of the versions have the Moon helping, but, of course, I explain the lullaby is my own idea of how she did it.

Do you see why I mention the variations?  Stories change a bit, whether told in the longhouse or your house.

Aside from loving Native American "pourquois" tales, I find Greek and Roman mythology for astronomy offer some not overly kid-friendly tales of the gods and people.  Look up Ursa, both major and minor, to see what I mean.  Definitely meant for a different audience.  Native American Sky Legends Teacher's Guide gives a good bibliography of anthologies from 1976 through the rest of the twentieth century.

Anne Rockwell did a simple but good retelling of the Iroquois story in her picture book, The Dancing Stars.
As the summer theme for many libraries proclaims, there's a Universe of Stories.  Whether you want something astronomical or otherwise scientific to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first human on the moon in 1969 or just want to read folktales online, I hope you will try some of the websites listed below in my "fine print."
This is part of a series of postings of stories under the category, "Keeping the Public in Public Domain."  The idea behind Public Domain was to preserve our cultural heritage after the authors and their immediate heirs were compensated.  I feel strongly current copyright law delays this intent on works of the 20th century.  My own library of folklore includes so many books within the Public Domain I decided to share stories from them.  I hope you enjoy discovering new stories.  

At the same time, my own involvement in storytelling regularly creates projects requiring research as part of my sharing stories with an audience.  Whenever that research needs to be shown here, the publishing of Public Domain stories will not occur that week.  This is a return to my regular posting of a research project here.  (Don't worry, this isn't dry research, my research is always geared towards future storytelling to an audience.)  Response has convinced me that "Keeping the Public in Public Domain" should continue along with my other postings as often as I can manage it.
Other Public Domain story resources I recommend-
  • There are many online resources for Public Domain stories, maybe none for folklore is as ambitious as fellow storyteller, Yoel Perez's database, Yashpeh, the International Folktales Collection.  I have long recommended it and continue to do so.  He has loaded Stith Thompson's Motif Index into his server as a database so you can search the whole 6 volumes for whatever word or expression you like by pressing one key.
  • You may have noticed I'm no longer certain Dr. Perez has the largest database, although his offering the Motif Index certainly qualifies for those of us seeking specific types of stories.  There's another site, FairyTalez claiming to be the largest, with "over 2000 fairy tales, folktales, and fables" and they are "fully optimized for phones, tablets, and PCs", free and presented without ads.

    Between those two sites, there is much for story-lovers, but as they say in infomercials, "Wait, there's more!"
The email list for storytellers, Storytell, discussed Online Story Sources and came up with these additional suggestions:            
         - David K. Brown -
         - Richard Martin -
         - Spirit of Trees -
         - Story-Lovers - is now only accessible through the Wayback Machine, described below, but Jackie Baldwin's wonderful site lives on there, fully searchable manually (the Google search doesn't work), at .  It's not easy, but go to snapshot for October 22 2016  and you can click on SOS: Searching Out Stories to scroll down through the many story topics and click on the story topic that interests you.
       - World of Tales - 
You're going to find many of the links on these sites have gone down, BUT go to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine to find some of these old links.  Tim's site, for example, is so huge probably updating it would be a full-time job.  In the case of Story-Lovers, it's great that Jackie Baldwin set it up to stay online as long as it did after she could no longer maintain it.  Possibly searches maintained it.  Unfortunately Storytell list member, Papa Joe is on both Tim Sheppard's site and Story-Lovers, but he no longer maintains his old Papa Joe's Traveling Storytelling Show website and his Library (something you want to see!) is now only on the Wayback Machine.  It took some patience working back through claims of snapshots but finally in December of 2006 it appears!
    Somebody as of this writing whose stories can still be found by his website is the late Chuck Larkin -  I prefer to list these sites by their complete address so they can be found by the Wayback Machine, a.k.a., when that becomes the only way to find them.
You can see why I recommend these to you. Have fun discovering even more stories!

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