Thursday’s Tale: The Star Maiden

Richard Hook - "The Star Maiden"

Image credit: First People

As you can guess from the beautiful image above, “The Star Maiden” is a Native American story, from the Shawnee tribe. It’s a shame, really, that I’m more familiar with European fairy tales than I am with stories whose origins are in my own country.

One day, a skilled warrior, Waupee the White Hawk walked farther in the forest than he ever had and came to a large grass-covered plain with a ring in it, as if made by feet walking around and around, but no path led to the ring or away from it. He decided to hide and watch, hoping to see who made the circle.

Soon, he heard sweet music and a basket descended from the sky, carrying twelve lovely maidens. The girls danced gracefully around the magic circle, and while they were all beautiful, the youngest captured Waupee’s heart. He rushed from his hiding place to hold the girl, but the sister were quicker. Frightened, the jumped into the basket and were carried away.

The following day, Waupee assumed the form of an opossum so as not to frighten the young women, but they were leery when they saw him and left. On the third day he disguised himself as a mouse. When the youngest sister came close he became himself and grabbed hold of her. The rest of her sisters fled, leaving her with the young hunter.

Eventually, the young woman comes to love the Waupee. They live in happiness and have a son, but the young woman is the daughter of a star and longs to visit her old home. On day, when her husband was hunting, the woman makes a basket, goes to the circle, and begins to sing. Waupee, hearing the song, arrives just in time to see the basket ascending to the heavens, carrying his wife and child.

Waupee mourns for his loss, but in her home among the stars, the young woman almost forgets about her earthly husband until her father, the chief of the stars, tells her to take the boy to visit her husband and to invite himĀ  to come and live with them, asking him to bring one of each kind of bird or animal he kills in the hunt.

When Waupee hears the song and sees his wife returning, he is delighted. Upon hearing the offer, he immediately begins to hunt, taking only a foot, or a tail, or a wing of each animal. Once everything was ready, they returned to the circle and floated up.

Great joy greeted their arrival in the starry world. The Star Chief invited all his people to a feast. When they were together, he announced that each might take one of the earthly gifts, whichever was most admired. Some chose a foot, some a wing, some a tail, and some a claw. Those who selected a tail or claw became animals and ran off. The others assumed the form of birds and flew away. Waupee chose a white hawk’s feather and his wife and son followed his example. All three now became white hawks and spread their great wings. They descended with the other birds down to earth, where they may still be found.

Another version says that with the feathers, Waupee’s family are able to change their form, living neither in the country of stars, nor on the earth, but roaming freely between the two and wherever else they might choose. I like that ending better, it seems happier somehow. They can visit both homes and stay together.

I like that love, in the end, conquers all their differences. I find it odd however, that the star girl would have forgotten all about her husband, the man she supposedly loved, if it hadn’t been for their child.

I was not a big fan of Waupee in the beginning of the story. Instead of talking to the woman he loves, or bringing her gifts, he tries to “seize” her, and finally does, grabbing her so she can’t leave. But he did seem to want to make her happy, and she eventually fell in love with him, so he had to be a good guy, right? She doesn’t even get a name though.

What about the sisters? They no longer come to earth to dance, but you can still see them twinkling in the sky in the constellation Corona Borealis. You can read the story several places online, including here.

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. I would love it if you joined me. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, share with us. If you have a link, please include it in your comment.

6 Comments

  1. anachronist

    Perhaps such were his tribe’s habits – if you want a girl you must prove you are skilled enough by abducting her. These were different times and you can’t judge him by our standards. Great story!

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