Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


The Morning Star bundle ceremony among the Skiri Pawnees (who lived in what is now central Nebraska) reasserted devotion to the power of the rising Eastern Star (Mars). It was their only ritual involving human sacrifice and was one of only a few not tied to seasonal cycles. For the ceremony to occur, a male member of the tribe had to announce that he had seen Morning Star in a dream and, upon awakening, perceived it rising in the east. Ritual tradition then called for dispatch of the dreamer (now deemed the "warrior leader") to secure a girl captive by raiding neighboring villages. The power of the ceremony was to provide for success in war and for fertility.

Preparation for the ceremony, which ended in a ritual feast and dance by the entire village, involved several stages and sacred songs. After being dressed by the Morning Star priest in sacred raiments from the Morning Star bundle and anointed with red ointment, the captive stayed with the Wolf man, who brought her daily to the warrior leader for meals eaten with utensils from the Morning Star bundle.

On the appropriate predawn morning, the Wolf man led the captive to the scaffold, constructed of different symbolic species of wood. The killing was carried out with a ceremonial bow and arrow. Immediately a stone knife incision was made near the heart, and specially prepared buffalo meat held to receive drops of the victim's blood before being prepared for feasting. Before the body was removed and placed in the prairie facing east, the entire village, including children, lodged dozens of arrows in the victim's back. The Skiris believed that this ceremony allowed the victim's spirit to ascend to the sky to become a star, while her body returned to the earth.

The last known Morning Star Ceremony sacrifice took place on April 22, 1838, with the killing of Haxti, a fifteen-year-old Lakota girl. The United States subsequently suppressed the ceremony, but it also seems that some Skiris themselves wished to stop the human sacrifice.

See also NATIVE AMERICANS: Pawnees.

Byron Cannon University of Utah

Dorsey, George A., and James Murie. Notes on Skidi Pawnee Society. Chicago: Field Museum of Natural History, 1940.

Murie, James. Ceremonies of the Pawnee. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989.

Previous: Methodism, United States | Contents | Next: Native American Church

XML: egp.rel.035.xml