The Big and Little Dippers have been important constellations to travelers through the ages. By using the two stars that form the front of the bowl of the Big Dipper, called the "Pointer Stars," one can "point" to Polaris, the North Star. The Big Dipper can also be used to find other constellations as well.
The Wolf Brothers
According to some Native American Tribes, this constellation represented a group of brothers and two bears.
Long ago there lived a group of five brothers known as the Wolf Brothers. They were all excellent hunters. They spent their days hunting and the nights cooking their meat and telling stories. As they gazed upon the night sky, they always saw two animals they could not identify. One night, the Coyote came upon their camp, and asked why they were gazing upon the sky.
"Well," said the oldest Wolf Brother, "every night we look upon the sky we see two strange animals we cannot identify."
"Then why not let me take you there?" replied Coyote.
The Coyote then fired his bow into the air, creating a ladder of arrows. He led the Wolf Brothers into the sky and closer to the two animals. They could see two large, furry, four legged animals with short tails. Curious, the two youngest brothers crept up to get a closer look. The three older brothers didn't think that was a good idea, and tried to get their brothers to stop. One of the brothers stepped on a twig, and this caught the two animals' attentions. They turned and looked at the Wolf Brothers, and the brothers stared back. Both parties were more curious than frightened, and continued to stare.
"What an odd sight!" thought Coyote, "five Wolf Brothers staring at two bears. I think I will leave this as a picture for all to enjoy!"
So Coyote went back to earth and took his ladder with him, leaving the Wolf Brothers stranded in the sky to look at the two bears.
NOTE: Possibly, the smaller star near Mizar (the second star in the dipper's handle) may have been the twig the Wolf Brother stepped on. This is just my opinion, though.
NOTE: This is a Native American story. Unfortunatly, I do not know which tribe it comes from.
Fisher (a long tailed rodent) was the greatest hunter in the forest. Fisher had a son, named Little Fisher. Like many young men, Little Fisher wanted to do what his dad did, only better! So Little Fisher set the goal to become the greatest hunter in the forest. In order to prove his ability, Little Fisher decided he would need to catch an owl, fore since owls were so wise and intelligent, they would no doubt be hard to catch. So Little Fisher searched the forest until he saw an owl. He carefully creapt up behind the owl, but he stepped on a twig and the noise from the twig breaking alerted the owl. Since he had failed, Little Fisher begain to cry.
"What is wrong?" asked the owl.
"I wanted to prove myself a great hunter by catching a wise owl, but alas I have failed," responded Little Fisher.
"Well," replied the owl, "you can still prove yourself a great hunter by finding snow, a cold, white poweder in the land of the Cloud People."
Little Fisher took the owl's advice. He climbed the tallest treee in the forest and took a mighty leap. He landed in the realm of the Cloud People and started looking for snow. However, the Cloud People found him and they were not happy about someone ontruding on their land. They chaced Little Fisher away, and he fell back down to Earth. He survived the fall, but hurt his leg.
Later that day, Fisher came home and saw his son nursing his injured leg. He asked what happened, and Little Fisher told his father of his adventure in the land of the Cloud People. Fisher then decided maybe he could find snow. So he went to the land of the Cloud People and searched carefully, and he found snow. However, the Cloud People were looking out for intruders, so they chased Fisher higher and higher into the sky until Fisher had no where to go but down. So he took a mighty leap!
And today, we can still see Fisher as the constellation known as the Big Dipper. Fisher is still spiraling down towards the Earth. During the winter when Fisher is lowest in the sky, some of the snow falls from his paws and down to the land below.
Miscellanious Views of the Big Dipper
Hindu:The stars of the Big Dipper were seven sages who guided the sun, moon, and weather.
Europe:A chariot. Scandinavian sources sometimes say this chariot belonged to the god Odin. However, most depictions of Odin have him using his horse Sleipnir as his favored mode of transportation. My guess if someone may have taken down the wrong god, because Thor is the Norse god generally associated with this vehicle.
England:A horse and carriage.
The Scandinavian Tyr Star
According to the Norsemen, the North Star was sacred to Tyr, the god of warriors and justice. He sacrificed his right hand to bind Fenris the Wolf. It was said Tyr was the absolute indicator of moral direction, just like the North Star is the absolute indicator of compass direction. The importance and spiritual value of this star is reflected in the following Norse rune-rhyme:
"Tyr is a star: it keeps faith well with the Athlings. Always on its course over the mists of night it never fails."
Arabic Legend of the North Star
The North Star became increasinly important to Muslims as they ventured further from the famlier lands of Arabia, for it would allow them to find directions (the Islamic religion requires the follower to pray five times per day while facing Mecca). oddly enough, though, some Arab tribes saw the North Star as the soul of a criminal. His sins were so bad, he was forced to stay in the same area and never allowed to move. All the other stars move about him, keeping their distance and mocking him.
NOTE: DOH! Again I forgot what tribe this story comes from.
According to some tribes, a group of hunters were out late hunting and became lost in the woods. They met up with a little girl, who said they could use a special star to find the way home (referring to Polaris, of course). The hunters thanked her and found their way home. However, the girl disappeared, and they they made the constellation in her honor.
This constellation was seen as the goddess Tou Mu, who was said to resuce ship wreaked and drowning sailors.