Myth & Lore

Page 11

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Creation Stories
By CinnamonMoon

Encyclopedia of Native American Religions:
Descriptions of world creation, the first people, and the nature of the world in which people live given in oral narratives comparable to the Bible and to sacred books of other faiths. Indian people prefer the terms "traditions," "stories" or "sacred narratives" to the term mythology. Indians do not think of their creation stories as "myth," but rather they believe the events really happened and these narratives embody the world views and moral outlooks of a group. Indian creation stories refer to a distant past when animals were still human-like and spoke with human tongue. the Supreme Being plays an obscure part in many of the stories, withdrawing in favor of other beings--culture heroes, twins, and tribal ancestors--who are connected to the beginning of existence. Culture heroes live in the era after the world is created but before it is inhabited by people. The hero transforms the world after creation or assists the Creator with it. There are many tales about culture heroes, often regarded as trickster-transformers, set in a not quite so distant time when the world had assumed its present form.

Creation stories are usually recited in ritual form but not all rites involve recitals of traditional stories nor do all stories have ritual expressions. Often, a sacred aura and serious demeanor accompany the telling of the creation story. Sacred genesis stories are known and told by specialists like priests or heads of clans or societies who learned the narratives from predecessors. Sacred stories sometimes are ceremonial property passed down to males of a family. there can be many versions of creation stories told by members of different families in different communities, some even contradicting one another, and storytellers have their own way of telling the creation stories. Stories are told during designated periods, usually winter, when stinging and biting animals are not out to bother the storyteller.

Most Native American accounts of creation vary according to the people's way of life, geography, climate, foods eaten, other subsistence factors and sacred history. In North America, there are endless stories regarding the creation of the world, people, animals, plants, birds, and other beings. Many tribes throughout North America (except in the Southwest, North Pacific Coast, and Arctic) began in a watery environment from which different beings bring up mud to make the earth. In the southwest, tribes describe four or five worlds, one on top of the other, through which people climb up to eventually emerge from Mother Earth, returning there after death. In the northwest, people descend through a hole in the sky to emerge in the present world. In some places like southern California, the world is thought to have resulted from cohabitation between Sky/Man and Earth/Woman. "Of the Creation of mankind there are probably as many stories as there are tribes." wrote George Gibbs in 1865 in an extensive study of Northwest Indian mythology. The following brief accounts of world creation illustrate the diverse stories.

Arapaho (Wyoming) In the beginning, there was only water. Man-Above, formless and invisible, told Flat Pipe floating on the water's surface to call on helpers to help him make a world. Flat Pipe imagined ducks and water birds and they appeared floating around him. He told them to dive to the bottom of the water and bring him whatever they found beneath them. After the ducks failed to find anything owing to the depth of the water, the geese tried and failed, as did the swans. Finally a turtle dove to the bottom of the water, resurfaced, and spit a small piece of earth onto Flat Pipe. The earth that Flat Pipe held grew and spread and became the world.

Cherokee (Northern Carolina) In the beginning, all was water. The animals who lived above the rainbow were crowded and wanted more room. They wondered what was below the water, and a little water beetle offered to look. It dived to the bottom and came up with soft mud which began to grow until it became the island we call the earth. Later, it was fastened to the sky ceiling with four cords.

Dieguenos (California) In the beginning, when Tu-chai-pai, the Maker, made the world, the earth was the woman and the sky was the man, and the world was a pure lake covered with turtles. Sky came down upon the earth. The Maker and his brother, Yo-ko-mat-is, blew and the heavens rose higher and higher above their heads until it formed a concave arch. The Maker made hills, valleys, little hollows of water, forests, and dug in the ground for mud to make the first people, the Indians.

Iroquois (New York) In the beginning, there was no land, no people. There was a great ocean and above it air. In the air lived birds and in the ocean lived fish. Above the unpeopled world, there was Sky-World, inhabited by deities who were like people. In the middle of Sky-World there was a sacred tree with enormous roots that spread out from the floor of Sky-World. A pregnant woman who lived in Sky-World decided she wanted bark from one of the roots. She told her husband, who knew the tree was not to be mutilated by any beings in Sky-World. As he dug a hole among the roots, he broke a hole through them and his wife fell through it toward the ocean. Birds made a feathered raft to support her and broke her fall. The birds placed her on the shell of a turtle, who had agreed to rescue her. The sea creatures offered to help her and she told them to find some soil for the roots stuck between her fingers. The muskrat succeeded in diving to the bottom of the ocean and bringing from it the soil from which earth was to grow. The woman took a tiny amount of the soil and placed it on the sea turtle's back, walked in a circle around it like the sun moves in the sky and earth began to grow. When the earth was big enough, the woman planted the roots clutched between her fingers when she fell from Sky-World and plants grew on the earth. To keep the earth growing, the woman walked as the sun goes around. when she had a daughter, the two kept walking in a circle around the earth so the earth and plants would continue to grow. (There are a number of versions of this story told throughout Mohawk, Onondaga, Seneca, Cayuga, Onedia who compose the Iroquois nations.)

Navajo (Arizona, New Mexico, Utah) The Navajos tell different versions of Navajo creation and the various underworlds. Accounts vary regarding the exact number of previous worlds or of the events or color in each. In the beginning, there was the First or Black World, inhabited by spirit people and Holy People. It was small and looked like a floating island in a sea of water mist. Creatures living in this world were thought of as Mist Beings as they had no form. They changed in later worlds to living things as we know them. Various beings disagreed and fought and the entire population emerged upward into the Second or Blue World through an opening. First Man and First Woman were formed in this world but not in their present shape. In the Second World, there was suffering and quarreling among the beings living there. First Man made a wand which helped carry the beings into the next world through an opening. In the Third or Yellow World, all the people were similar in that they had no definite form. There was a great flood and First Man attempted to save people. On his fourth attempt, he planted a female reed, which grew to the top of the sky. People crowded into the reed and climbed up into the Fourth World. In the Fourth World, First Man and First Woman formed four main sacred mountains from soil that First Man gathered from mountains in the third World. The first fire, sweat bath, hogan, stars, sun, moon, seasons, harvest, and many other things were then created, as were the first human man and woman, the first Navajos. Some versions tell that people went to the Place of Emergence and reached the Fifth or present world.

Netsilik Inuit (Canada) the earth always existed, though in the earliest times, everything was in darkness. When man first appeared, he lived without sunlight and there were no animals to hunt. Nuliajuk, an orphan girl, was pushed into the sea by the people of her camp and sank to the bottom of the ocean. She became a sea spirit and created all the animals of the sea and land. There was no difference between humans and animals and all spoke the same tongue. Words had power and anything spoken could produce immediate physical effects. As soon as people wished for food, their camp was transported through the air to a new place where they could obtain nourishment. When a flood destroyed the land, all animals and people died with the exception of two shamans, one of whom became pregnant. During these times, giants fought and many evil spirits went up into the air as a result of broken taboos and they made human life dangerous. The creation of the visible world took place simultaneously with the establishment of the moral order characterized by good and evil and taboos related to them.

Ojibwa/Chippewa (Michigan, Wisconsin) there are many versions of the Ojibwa creation story. In one, Nanabozho's mother gave birth to several beings, including Nanabozho, and then died because she ignored her mother's advice to face a certain direction. Nanabozho then lived with his grandmother and sought revenge against those responsible for his mother's death. In several versions of the story, he held his brother responsible. Against the wishes of his grandmother, he did battle with his brother and killed him. Nanabozho lived alone with a wolf which drowned as it tried to kill game near water. Nanabozho transformed himself into a stump in order to get revenge for the wolf's death, and attacked the underwater manitos (beings). Nanabozho then met an old woman in the woods from whom he learned that he only wounded, not slayed them. He killed her and disguised himself with her skin so he could travel in the water to the manito camp and finish killing the one/ones responsible for the death of the wolf. A flood resulted and Nanabozho climbed a tall tree to escape the water. After the water stopped, he decided to create a new earth so he told several animals to dive into the water for a piece of earth. The muskrat succeeded in collecting small pieces from which Nanabozho created a new earth, large enough for all the people and animals.

Pawnee (Oklahoma, Nebraska) In the beginning, the Power needed help, so stars, sun, moon, clouds, winds, lightning, and thunder were created. The Power told the Evening Star to order her priests to sing and shake their rattles. A great storm came up and rolled across the formless world and passed the Power, who dropped a pebble into the clouds. After the storm, the world was water. The Power sent out Black, Yellow, White, and Red stars each carrying a cedar war club. Each struck the water with the club and the waters parted and earth appeared. Again, Power told the Evening Star to order her priests to rattle and sing. Again a storm ensued. The thunders shook earth, and hills and valleys, mountains and plains were formed. The Power created life on earth.

Tohono O'odham (Arizona) In the beginning, Earthmaker made the whole earth out of a little ball of dirt. he danced on the ball and pushed it until it expanded. There was a great noise and I'itoi jumped out of the earth to help Earthmaker give the world its shape. Coyote, who was with Earthmaker from the beginning, followed Earthmaker and I'itoi everywhere while they made and shaped people of the earth.

Ute (Colorado, Utah) In the beginning, there was nothing but blue sky, clouds, sunshine, and rain. Great He-She spirit lived in the middle of the sky and ruled above. Lonesome, he made a big hole through the heavens and looked at nothingness below. After pouring snow and rain through the hole, He-She took dirt and stone from the hole in the floor of heaven and poured it through to the void below, creating mountains and the spirit crawled through the hole to get a better look. Because the dirt, stones, snow and rain had formed something ugly, He-She touched the earth and trees and forests appeared. His hand created plains, grass, and small plants. He told sun to shine through the hole in the sky and as snow melted, lakes and rivers were created. These flowed east and west into great lakes, forming the oceans. He made fish, birds, and animals and left the bear in charge while He-she went back to the heavens to rest.

Winnebago (Wisconsin) In the beginning, Earthmaker was alone in space. He began to cry and his falling tears formed the seas. When Earthmaker wished for something, it would come into existence. he wished for light, and light was created. He wished for the earth and earth came into existence. But earth was not quiet, so he made trees, but they did not quiet earth. he created the four cardinal points and four winds and placed them at four corners of the earth to act as weights holding down the island earth. But this did not quiet earth. Finally, he made four large snake beings and threw them down toward earth and they pierced through earth, quieting it.

Zuni (New Mexico) In one of the many versions of the Zuni creation story, in the beginning, all was fog rising like steam. Awonawilona existed alone in the void. With the breath from his heart, Awonawilona created mist, then made himself into the sun. the mist thickened and fell as rain, forming the great waters of the world. Next, Awonawilona took some of his own flesh and placed it on the water, where it expanded into the shape of Mother Earth and Father Sky. These two lay together and conceived life in the four-chambered earth womb, or four underworlds through which the first beings passed to emerge at the earth's surface.


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INDEX Page 1
(Divination & Dreams, Guides & Spirit Helpers)
INDEX Page 2
INDEX Page 3
(Main Section, Medicine Wheel, Native Languages & Nations, Symbology)
INDEX Page 4
(Myth & Lore)
INDEX Page 5
(Sacred Feminine & Masculine, Stones & Minerals)
INDEX Page 6
(Spiritual Development)
INDEX Page 7
(Totem Animals)
INDEX Page 8
(Tools & Crafts. Copyrights)

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