In his 1907 essay on Chukchi mythology, Bogoraz describe their cosmogony as follows:

According to the cosmogonical beliefs of the Chukchee, there are several worlds situated one above another, in such a manner that the ground of one forms the sky of the one below. The number of these worlds is stated as five, seven, or nine. These worlds are arranged symmetrically above and below the earth, each of the lower worlds having a corresponding one above it. [...] All these worlds, as said before, are joined by holes situated under the Polar Star. Shamans and spirits while going from one world to another slip through these holes.

And earlier, while describing the star itself:

The most important is the Polar Star, which is called in the Chukchee language Ilu'kalin e'nier or Ilu'k-e'iner ("motionless star"), or Aglqe'p- e'ner ("nail star"), or Unp-e'nier ("the pole-stuck star"). This latter name occurs throughout Asia. It suggests the existence of a simile in which all other stars move around the Polar Star as horses or reindeer move around a pole to which they are tethered. The house of the Polar Star stands in the zenith. Directly under it is a hole through which it is possible to pass from one world to another. Through a series of these holes the Polar Star can be seen in al the lower and higher worlds, while the other constellations change with the diferent worlds. Carrying this idea further, the house of the Polar Star is supposed to be higher than that of any other star. It is made of a material similar to ice, and on the top of it is set the beacon - lamp of the star.

The Chukchi being a people living in the arctic Siberia, one would indeed expect the North Star to be central to their cosmogony. Hence my question: did the other people indigenous to the Arctic develop similar cosmogonical beliefs surrounding the North Star?

1 Answer 1


I stumbled upon an article by Åke Hultkrantz called A new look at the world pillar in Arctic and sub-Arctic religions that is relevant to the question.

According to Hultkrantz, there is a cosmogonical concept common to a number of Eurasian arctic and subarctic people: that of a world pillar/pole maintaining the sky. Here is what he says about its relationship with the north star:

The top of the world pillar, or the world pillar as a whole, is identified with the polar star. Basic here is the observation that, in the northern sky, the stars revolve as if around a fixed point. It is believed that this point is the upper end of the world pillar, provided with an iron needle around which the sky circles. This needle is the mechanism for the rotation of the sky, and is thereby easily identified with the polar star.

The distribution of the pertinent traits shows that while the concept of the polar star as the fixed point of the world pillar seems to be common to the whole circumpolar area, the idea of the needle is only represented among Eurasian sub-Arctic peoples. [...]

The nail on the world column, or what we here conveniently could call the "world nail", has apparently been a widely distributed Eurasian concept. All sources at our disposal hint that this nail was identical with the polar star. This holds for the Saamis, the Esthonians, the Samoyeds, the Chuckchee and the Koryak. It is furthermore most interesting that the polar star has been called world pillar. Thus, as Harva has noted, Mongols, Buryats, Kalmucks, Altai Tatars and Uigurs call the polar star "the golden pillar", Kirghis, Bashgirs and other Tatars name it "iron pillar", the Teleuts "the lone post" and the Orotchi (Tungus) "the golden post".

As for the origin of the concept, according to Hultkrantz:

The world pillar, we may insist, genuinely represents an archaic, circumpolar world view. Since circumpolar culture, besides being an adaptation to the Arctic and sub-Arctic environment, typifies a culture of mesolithic-palaeolithic origins it seems probable that the world pillar and associated mythic-ritual complex may be traced back to this time and age.

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