Sunday, April 3, 2016

Pleiades ... Cultural Links Across Northern Eurasia




The Pleiades as Openings, the Milky Way as the Path of Birds, and the Girl on the Moon: Cultural Links Across Northern Eurasia

Yuri Berezkin


Abstract: The Baltic-Finnish and the Baltic (Latvian and Lithuanian) cosmonyms mostly coincide while the Baltic and Slavic cosmonymic patterns are different. The Pleiades in the Eastern Baltic are ‘a sieve’, the Milky Way is ‘the path of migratory birds’ and a girl holding water pails is seen on the Moon. Across most of Central, Western and Southern Europe the Pleiades are ‘a hen with its chicken’, the Milky Way and the lunar spots have other (and different) interpretations. The Eastern Baltic pattern is identical with the Middle Volga one where it is widespread among both Finnish-Permian and Turkic groups and probably relates back to the (Proto-Baltic?) culture of the Iron Age. However, parallels for the cosmonyms in question are found across most of Northern Eurasia and find corresponding similarities in some parts of North America. ‘Water-carrier on the Moon’ is the most widespread of these motifs being known in Japan and Polynesia. In Eurasia, the Northern Samoyeds noticeably lack all three images. The initial emergence of at least some of the cosmonyms under discussion in the Terminal Pleistocene of northern East Asia and their further dissemination towards the West, down to the Baltics, is a hypothesis to be checked.

Pleiades as 'Sieve'

"The designation of the Pleiades as a ‘sieve’ is characteristic, as was mentioned, for the Eastern Baltic where it was recorded among ancient Prussians, Lithuanians, Letts, Livonians, Estonians, Votians, Finns (Allen 1899: 397; Andree 1878: 107; Ernits & Ernits 2009; Kerbelyte 2001: 65; Kuperjanov 2003: 183–185; Mándoki 1963: 519; Nepokupny 2004; Vaiškūnas 1999: 167; 2004: 169)."

"In the Middle Volga region ‘sieve’, as a name for the Pleiades, has been recorded among the Chuvash (Mándoki 1963: 520; Sirotkin & Ivanov 1970: 128; Iukhma 1980: 266; Zolotnitskii 1874:22), Mari (Aktsorin 1991, No. 37: 83), Tatars (Potanin 1883: 729; Vorobiev & Khisamutdinov 1967: 316), Bashkirs (Maksiutova 1973: 383), and Udmurts (probably the southern groups only) (Nikonov 1973: 376; Wichmann 1987: 107)."

"Besides the Eastern Baltic and Middle Volga areas, ‘sieve’ is typical for Dagestan where it is recorded among the Kumyks, Laks, Avars, Andi, Dargins, and Tavli (Gamzatov & Dalgat 1991: 304–305; Potanin 1883: 729–730). Grigori Potanin found ‘sieve’ as a name for the Pleiades among the Kazakh of the Middle Zhuz and among Astrakhan Tatars (Potanin 1881: 126; 1919: 84)."

"Among Chukchi and Koryak of the Asian North-East, W. Bogoras and W. Jochelson recorded cosmonyms Ke’tmet and Kä’tmäc (Bogoras 1939: 29; Jochelson 1908: 122) and translated them as ‘small sieve’"

"A word similar to Ketmet really means ‘sieve’ (for washing salmon roe) though not in the Paleoasiatic but in the Yukaghir language (Mudrak 2008)."

"‘Sieve’ may have reached Dagestan and Kazakhstan from the Volga region in times of the Golden Horde (Napolskikh’s suggestion) though such a late diffuse spreading does not fit well a specific parallel between the Lithuanians and the Laks: the sky sieve was used by God to winnow cereal grains (Khalidova 1984: 160; Nepokupny 2004: 77). Unfortunately, the Lithuanian mytheme is known only from a literary source (Mickiewicz 1955, book 8: 434), from which it is not sufficient to draw reliable conclusions. The position of Hungarian materials is also unclear as although the Hungarian word szita for the Pleiades is borrowed from Slavic (Mándoki 1963: 519–520), the constellation in the sky is really viewed as something with openings (Zsigmond 2003: 434). The fact that the Hungarians are the only people in the Balkans who have this concept makes it doubtful that such an interpretation of the Pleiades was borrowed from the Slavic population of Pannonia. And if the Hungarians brought it from the East, what was the source? In Western Europe the cosmonym ‘sieve’ (crivello) is recorded only in the Alto Adige district of Northern Italy (Volpati 1932: 206; 1933b: 21). It deserves to be mentioned that crivello is both ‘sieve’ and ‘shovel for winnowing grain’."

Pleiades as 'Holes in the Sky"

"it is supported for the Yakuts by a folklore text: the hero makes mittens of wolf skin to stop up holes in the sky from which the icy wind blows and these holes are the Pleiades (Holmberg 1927:418)."

"Among the Orochi and the Uilta of Sakhalin the Pleiades, in some cases, are also ‘seven openings’ (Podmaskin 2006: 432)"

Pleiades as 'Girls'

"There are no data on the Vepses while for the Saami the Pleiades are girls (Charnoluski 1930: 48; Lundmark 1982: 105)."

"among the Chukchi the basic image of the Pleiades was ‘group of women’ (Bogoras1939: 24)."

"the ‘seven women’ are more usual for the Lower Amur region. No special narratives exist related to this name but the same word is used to denote the branchial openings of the lamprey (Pevnov 2008)." 

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