Long ago, when the earth and sky were new, seven sisters lived in a village. The sisters loved to dance. Every day they danced together in the forest, and wherever one sister went, the others followed. Every evening the sisters returned to the longhouse to rest, but by morning they were ready to dance.

One evening, as the sun began to set, the sisters heard in the distance a glorious song. The song seemed to be calling to them, and in a moment they forgot about their suppers and they forgot about their home. They stood still and listened, and then, without speaking a word, they danced off toward the source of the song.They danced through the woods and into the forest. On they danced as the sun dipped toward the horizon. The stars began to gleam and the sky grew darker, but still the sisters danced toward the sound. Then, suddenly, their feet seemed lighter, and when they looked down they saw that everything they had ever known was far below them, and they knew they were dancing up into the sky.

They danced on, higher and higher, moving toward the beautiful sound, and the song grewlouder and louder and more and more beautiful and more and more mysterious. Below them the longhouse and the trees and their friends and families seemed to grow smaller and smaller. And then the song became a sweet, gentle voice.

I came to the sky . . .

for a hunter pursued me.

And now I am lost in the sky.

On the sisters danced, higher and higher.

Come my sisters,

Come here to me in the sky,

And I will watch over you.

Then the sisters saw who was singing the song. It was a great black bear. Her tail glistened, for it was strewn with stars, and around her neck she wore a shimmering necklace of stars. Her nose and her toes twinkled with stars, and around her belly hung a belt of shining stars.

The sisters danced closer and the bear went on singing. On and on she sang, and the sisters went on dancing. They danced for hours, and the great black bear sang, and her toes and nose and tail and neck and belly glistened.

After many hours, the sisters looked up and saw how very dark it was and how far away they had traveled, and they could not remember the way home.

The moon smiled and winked and watched as the sisters went on dancing. "My children," she said, "this is your home now. The stars and I love the way you dance, and we wish you to live here with us."

The sisters leaped and twirled and whirled and swayed and twisted and tapped and toed. To their amazement, they did not grow tired. They twirled faster, they whirled faster and each time they twirled another star twinkled and grew, and the great black bear's song grew sweeter still.

Then suddenly the smallest sister heard a voice. She heard another voice. She heard it over the sound of the song and over the tapping of her sisters' feet. And she knew it was her mother's voice. "Come back, sister," cried the six dancing sisters, but the little girl was racing now. "Come back, sister," called the dancing sisters once again, and they watched as their youngest sister ran with a bright star trailing her.

Together the youngest sister and the star descended from the sky. Down, down, down they sped, past clouds and past the eagle's nest and past the tallest branches of the trees. On they raced, down, down, down.

At last the smallest sister saw her mother and she raced faster still. And finally she landed on the ground. But when she landed, she vanished, and there, in her place, was simply a hole. Her mother looked down at the hole, and she began to weep. And then she looked into the sky and she saw her other daughters dancing still.

"Stay in the sky," she called to warn them. "Stay there and dance with the great black bear or you will crash to earth."

The sisters heard their mother's pleading voice over the sound of the great black bear's song, and they nodded their heads and waved and smiled, and the stars behind them twinkled more brightly. "Yes, mother," they called, "we will stay in the sky."

Down below the mother sat and wept, and soon she saw a small green shoot spring up from the hole. Quickly it grew, higher and higher. This was the youngest sister reaching up for her sisters. Higher the shoot grew until at last it reached the six sisters, and they cried, "Welcome back, sister."

Five nights after the new moon in January, the constellation Pleiades reaches its highest point in the night sky. Pleiades is a group of seven stars sometimes called the Seven Sisters, part of a larger constellation known as Taurus, or the Bull. On a clear winter's night, look south; you may see Pleiades.

The Iroquoian new year begins on this date and lasts for eight days. The Iroquois celebrate with a midwinter festival, a time to pray that life will be renewed. "The Dance of the Seven Sisters" is one version of a traditional Iroquoian tale about the origin of Pleiades. In some versions of this tale, seven sisters dance, while in others there are seven brothers.

1993 Universal Press Syndicate