Ursa MajorAncient Astronomy and LegendsGreeceIn Greek mythology, Zeus sees a young woman, Callisto, training to be a hunter. When Zeus noticed her, he fell in love. However, Zeus and Callisto had an affair, and Zeus’ wife, Hera had become furious.
Sometime later, Callisto had given birth to a son and Hera assumed it was Zeus’. To punish her, Hera turned Callisto into a bear so that Zeus would not find her beautiful anymore. Arcas, Callisto’s son grew up to be a hunter while Callisto roamed the forests. One day, Arcas when out to hunt. When Callisto saw her son she was overjoyed and rushed to him. Arcas, startled to see a bear running at him, shot an arrow at her, but before it could hit her, Zeus sent a whirlwind that carried Callisto and Arcas into the heavens, turning Arcas into the constellation Boötes, and Castillo into Ursa Major. Canadian Atlantic ProvincesA common legend among the Atlantic Provinces is the celestial bear hunt.
A legend of the Mi’kmaq, a group of Indigenous peoples in the Atlantic Provinces of Canada, begins with a bear that comes out of hibernation on the first day of spring. The bear leaves her den to look for food and the Chickadee bird spots the bear and decides to hunt it. However, he is too small to hunt alone, so the Chickadee bird calls the Robin, the Blue Jay, the Moosebird (a Grey Jay), and three other Canadian birds to join. The birds are believed to be the handle of the Big Dipper.
The birds began to follow the bear’s trail, with the Robin leading the flock, followed by the Chickadee holding a pot, and the Moosebird and the four other birds behind them. The seven birds follow the bear all summer and soon lose the trail. One by one the birds drop out of the hunt leaving only Robin, Chickadee, and Moosebird. Eventually, during mid-autumn the bear stands up on two paws and Robin shoots her with an arrow, hitting her chest. The blood splatters all over the Robin, so he goes to a nearby maple tree and shakes it off except for the blood on his breast.
Many First Nations believe this is why the robin has a red breast and why the leaves change red every autumn. Meanwhile, the life spirit of the bear returns to its den, Corona Borealis, a small constellation near Ursa Major. Stories from the Greek and Mi’kmaq tribe both involved a representation of a bear but they both revolved around their own cultures beliefs. The Greek story revolves around Greek mythology and the Mi’kmaq tribe’s story revolved around Canadian nature. A big difference is that Greek mythology believes the bear makes up Ursa Major whereas the Mi’kmaq tribe believes Ursa Major is comprised of the bear and the three birds on the handle of the Big Dipper