The Spirit and the Sky


The Spirit and the Sky

Lakota Visions of the Cosmos

Mark Hollabaugh

Studies in the Anthropology of North American Indians Series

276 pages
10 photographs, 14 illustrations, 12 tables, index


June 2017


$50.00 Add to Cart

October 2018


$24.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

June 2017


$24.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

The interest of nineteenth-century Lakotas in the Sun, the Moon, and the stars was an essential part of their never-ending quest to understand their world. The Spirit and the Sky presents a survey of the ethnoastronomy of the nineteenth-century Lakotas and relates Lakota astronomy to their cultural practices and beliefs. The center of Lakota belief is the incomprehensible, extraordinary, and sacred nature of the world in which they live. The earth beneath and the stars above constitute their holistic world. 

Mark Hollabaugh offers a detailed analysis of aspects of Lakota culture that have a bearing on Lakota astronomy, including telling time, their names for the stars and constellations as they appeared from the Great Plains, and the phenomena of meteor showers, eclipses, and the aurora borealis. Hollabaugh’s explanation of the cause of the aurora that occurred at the death of Black Elk in 1950 is a new contribution to ethnoastronomy.

Author Bio

Mark Hollabaugh is an emeritus instructor of physics and astronomy at Normandale Community College in Bloomington, Minnesota.


"Both beginning and experienced students in Lakota studies will [find] The Spirit and the Sky worthwhile reading. . . . It will be of special importance for those wishing to pursue further research in Lakota ethnoastronomy."—Harvey Markowitz, North Dakota History

"The Spirit and the Sky contributes another perspective on how the stars and universe have shaped the history of the Lakota people."—Richard Williams, Tribal College Journal

"This reviewer strongly recommends The Spirit and the Sky to readers interested in the Lakota or in ethnoastronomy, or both, for it provides an avenue into important spiritual aspects of Lakota life, their understanding of and relationship to the sky and its contents, and the field of ethnoastronomy."—Guy Gibbon, Nebraska History

“Through a comprehensive introduction to Lakota cultural astronomy, Mark Hollabaugh invites the reader to see the limitless skies over the Northern Plains much as did the Lakota of the nineteenth century. His incisive assessment of winter counts, ledger books, written records, celestial phenomena, and the Sun Dance is remarkably illuminating and heartily welcome.”—Harry Thompson, executive director of the Center for Western Studies at Augustana University

“Mark Hollabaugh treats us to a tutorial on basic observational astronomy while skillfully and thoroughly leading us into an understanding of the natural cycles of earth and sky, especially the recurring nature of celestial phenomena, as perceived through traditions of the great Lakota Nation of the North American Plains.”—Von Del Chamberlain, author of When Stars Came Down to Earth: Cosmology of the Skidi Pawnee Indians of North America

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgements
List of Figures
List of Tables
Chapter 1        The Lakota People
Archaeology of the Great Plains
Lakota History
Conflict and Disaster
Sources of Information and Limitations
Sources Relating to Lakota Astronomical Concepts
James R. Walker
Other Non-Native Sources
Lakota Holy Men
Chapter 2        The Sky
Archaeoastronomy and Ethnoastronomy
The Celestial Sphere
The Stars and Constellations
Motions of the Sun, Moon and Planets
Time and Calendars
Phases of the Moon
Aurora Borealis
Comets and Meteors
Astronomy of the Plains Indians
Chapter 3        Lakota Culture
Belief Systems
The Four Virtues
The Numbers Four and Seven
The Four Colors and Four Directions
The Seven Sacred Rites
Wakháŋ —The Sacred
Chapter 4        The Stars and Constellations
The Night Sky
The Stars
The Lakota Names of the Stars
The Constellations
The Milky Way
Chapter 5        The Sun and Moon
Grandfather Sun
The Moon Watches Over the Earth
The Sun and Moon in Lakota Designs
Chapter 6        Telling Time
The Day
The Month
Calendar Sticks
The Year – Winter Counts
The Seasons
Time in Lakota Culture
Chapter 7        Eclipses and the Aurora Borealis
Aurora Borealis
The Aurora and the Death of Black Elk
Chapter 8        Meteors and Comets
Random Meteors
Recurring Meteor Showers
Chapter 9        The Sun Dance
The Lakota Sun Dance
Conducting a Sun Dance
Seasonal Timing of the Sun Dance
The 1876 Sitting Bull Sun Dance
The 1875 Chadron Sun Dance
The 1881 Pine Ridge Sun Dance
Location and Orientation of the Sun Dance Lodge
Chapter 10      Contemporary Lakota Astronomy
Archie Fire Lame Deer and the Sweat Lodge
Lakota Star Knowledge
Chapter 11      The Spirit and The Sky
Native Americans and Science
Native Americans and Astronomy
Wakháŋ and the Stars
Appendix: Museums

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