Myth & Lore

Page 55

(Main Links of the site are right at the bottom of the page)
Some of the 86 pages in this Myth & Lore section are below. The rest will be found HERE

The Haudenosaunee Creation
By Barbara Alice Mann

The original ancestors of the Iroquios were the Sky People, denizens of Karionake, "The Place in the Sky," commonly called Sky World, a physical place that floated among the stars "on the farther side of the visible sky" ("Mohawk Creation," 32; Hewitt, 1903, p141). Sky World was well populated, with a social order that greatly resembled later Iroquoian society. The people lived in close-knit, matrilineal clans. The Sky People were greatly gifted with uki-okton power. In a Mohawk Keeping, it is said that the Sky People "had greatly developed what scientists call E.S.P." ("Mowhawk Creation," 1989, 32), a talent later valued by their earthly descendants, especially for tapping into dream knowledge. The geography of Sky World also resembled that of Iroquoia, with trees, crops, and longhouses. All the flora and fauna later present in physical form on earth had spiritual counterparts (Elder Siblings) preexisting in Sky World. These animal spirit elders took part in sky councils and performed creative tasks (Barbeau, 1915, 41-44; Hewitt, 1928, 465)

In the center of Sky World grew a wonderful tree that, running the length of Sky World, held it together from top to bottom. Some say it was a wild cherry tree, and others call it a crabapple tree; still others call it a pilar. The Tuscarora call it a dogwood tree. An Onondaga version named the tree Ono'dija, it "Tooth," presumably indicating the yellow dogtooth violet. The tree itself was sacred, supplying food that the Sky People might gather. If sprouted from the sides and fell to the ground to be collected, just for the thinking.

Several traditions speak of the conception, birth, childhood and youth of the girl who was to become Sky Woman, also called Awenhai (Fertile Earth), Ataensic (Mature Flowers), Otsitsa (Corn), and eventually, Iagentci (Ancient One or Grandmother). Sky Woman's mother dallied with a man she did not actually love, enticing him daily by "disentangling" his hair. (Combing out the hair was a metaphor for interpreting dreams, part of making them true. It was a spiritual talent.) This unfortunate man, the father of Sky Woman, died before she was born and was "buried" high in the tree of Sky World. His was the first death ever to occur in Sky World, a spirit sign. Sky Woman grew up quickly (another sign of spirit power), in constant mourning for the father she never knew, prompting her grandmother to show her where her father had been buried (Hewitt, 1903, 141-149, 256-265). In another version, the deceased was not a sperm father, but the girl's maternal uncle (Hewitt, 1928, 470). This cultural tidbit seems authentically old because the mother's matrilineal brother, not an out-clan biological father, was traditionally the male authority figure of a longhouse and often was called, "Father."

Sky Woman's husband is usually called the Ancient. She was soon with child through the sharing of breath with her husband (Hewitt, 1903, 167). In one Seneca version, Sky Woman gave birth to her child in Sky World, but this seems anomalous. In nearly every other collected version, she was pregnant when she arrived on earth, delivering her daughter there. The Ancient was the presiding officer of Sky World, who lodged in the shade of Tooth.

Dreams are very important to the Sky People. It was necessary not only to understand them, but also to reenact them, thus continually creating reality. One day, the Ancient had a troubling dream, which made him ill. In a Seneca version, he had dreamed that a great "cloud sea" swam around under Tooth, the ocean of a restless and unlit world. Its spirit was calling out to the Sky People for aid in overcoming extreme loneliness (Converse, 1908, 33).

All of the Elders of the later plants and animals, as well as the heavenly bodies and elements associated with earth, came to peer over the edge at the water world. Deer, Spotted Fawn, Bear, Beaver, the Moving Wind, Daylight, Night, Thick Night, the Sun, Spring Water, Corn, Beans, Squash, Sunflower, Fire Dragon, Meteor, Rattle, Otter, Wolf, Duck, Fresh Water, Medicine, Aurora Borealis, and of course, the Great Turtle, visited the window onto earth (Hewitt, 1903, 173-175). Some add that the Blue Sky, the Air, the Thunderers, the Tree, the Bush, the Grass, the Moon, the Star, and the Sun looked as well (Hewitt, 1928, 473). The hole at the base of Tooth became a regular Sky World tourist destination.

Skywoman Falls to Earth
Having uprooted the tree, the Ancient was thus able to fulfill the second part of his dream, that his wife was to fall through the hole in the Sky World, down to the water below. Occasionally, it is said that she fell because of her own curiosity, having leaned too far over the edge for a better look at earth (Parker, 1913, 6). Some Wyandot Keepings depict the illness as Sky Woman's, not the ancient's, stating that, to cure her, an aged shaman uprooted the tree, laying Sky Woman as near as possible to its medicinal roots -- too near, as it turned out because the soil was unstable and the sick girl was sucked down into the hole and rolled into the void (Barbeau, 1915, 37).

In yet another variant, this one Mohawk, her husband was considerate, not cruel, and gathered the living bark of Tooth for tea to calm the cravings of his pregnant wife. It was his kind deed that caused the Sky tree to collapse, opening the window onto earth below and occasioning her slip ("Mohawk Creation," 1989, 32). Most Haudenosaunee keep the version of the bad-tempered Ancient, however, attributing Sky Woman's tumble to his jealousy. In several versions, the Ancient was irrationally jealous of the Aurora Borealis, the Fire Dragon, and especially of Sky Woman, who was more gifted with uki-okton than he.

Although unable to climb back up the ledge, she did acquire seeds from the munificent Tree. In her right hand, she garnered the Three Sisters: Corn, Beans and Squash. Some say she also laid hold of Tobacco in her left hand. A Seneca version claimed that the white Fire Dragon or the Blue Panther - an okton spirit jealously sought by the Ancient -- was at the root hole just as Sky Woman fell. In this version, it was the Blue Panther who gave her Corn, mortar, and pestle (Hewitt, 1903, 224 and 1928, 481; Cornplanter, 1928, 9, 13). Jesse Cornplanter said that it was the Ancient himself who threw the Elder plants (corn, beans, squash, sunflower, tobacco) along with the Elder Animals (Deer, Wolf, Bear, Beaver, etc.) down the abyss after her in a final frenzy of rage ([1938] 1992, 10).

In all versions, however, Skywoman slid down, down, down through space and into the atmosphere of the Earth. (The suggestion of tradition is that the strong spirit of Sky Woman's father had foreseen all of these events as necessary to the beginning of human life on earth, and that this was why he had urged his daughter on to such an unfortunate marriage, with all of its character-building trials and tribulations.) Sick of the disruption in Sky World, on her fall

through the hole in Sky World, the Sky People set Tooth, the Tree of Light, back into its socket (Hewitt, 1928, 480).

Now, the Elder creatures of earth, alerted first by the far-sighted Eagle, saw Sky Woman falling. For the first time, lightning (the Fire Dragon or Meteor Man) streaked across the sky of earth at her side as she hurtled through the atmosphere (Parker, 1912, 6). Sweeping into action, Heron and Loon caught and held the frightened Sky Woman aloft on their interlocking wings while, in an amusing portion of the tradition, the Great Tortoise sends around a moccasin, that is, he called an emergency council of Elder animals to see what was to be done. (For a sprightly Wyandot version of the Elder animals' Creation Council, see Barbeau, 1915, 38-44). Knowing that she was a Sky Woman, unable to live on their watery planet, the Elder Spirits of earth creatures all quickly agreed that she should not be dropped into the waters to die.

The Origin of Turtle Island
In every version, the great Snapping Turtle offered his carapace, vowing to carry the earth above him forever as he swam. The idea gained ready assent, and the council of earth elders assembled its divers. Usually, the divers were said to have been Muskrat, Otter, Toad, or Beaver. In some versions, the Muskrat and Otter die in the attempt to bring up dirt in their mouths, with Beaver finally bringing it up on his tail, or Toad in his mouth. A Mohawk version has poor, dead Muskrat floating to the surface, his mouth was smeared with the dirt that was to become earth(Hewitt, 1903, 287). A Seneca version says that it was Sky Woman herself, who arrived with the dirt of Sky World on her hands and under her fingernails, gathered as she frantically clutched at the tree roots during her fall (ibid., 226)/ A tad of dirt now ready to accept her, the Birds were able to set Sky Woman down on her new abode, Turtle Island. Looking around forlornly, alone and torn from everything she had ever known, Sky Woman wept bitterly (ibid., 225).

Wherever Sky Woman went, every kind of plant sprouted up before her. Now, she planted the Three Sacred Sisters she had brought from Sky World. Some say that she found potatoes here (Hewitt, 1903, 226), although potatoes are usually attributed to the little daughter, soon born to her on Turtle Island. The land was full with the harvest, on which Sky Woman lived. As the land was full of growth, so was Sky Woman. She prepared her birthing hut and delivered herself of an infant daughter. They were at that time, the only two human beings on earth.

The Birth of the Twins: Sapling & Flint
Sky Woman continually refused the Earth Elders as consorts of her daughter until one day the matter passed out of her hands. An engaging man-creature came along, his bark robe tossed rakishly over his shoulder, his black hair pulled up, and his handsome eyes gleaming. He was so gorgeous that the Lynx forgot to ask her mother but lay with him immediately. Some assert that the two did not engage in coitus, but that the young man simply lay an arrow next to her body (Hewitt, 1903, 291-292). In an Onondaga version, Sky Woman consented to, rather than resisted, this final match (Hewitt, 1928, 384-385), but most versions showed Sky Woman was dismayed by the Lynx's unauthorized infatuation.

Young love won out, however, and soon the Lynx was pregnant, a fact that caused her mother to tremble. Sky Woman was fearful of the result of a pregnancy between two such different creatures as a Sky Girl and an earth Man-Being. In the very oldest Keepings of Creation, the Lynx was pregnant not with twins (the common Keeping today), but with quadruplets, analogous to the four sacred messengers of the Gaiwi:yo and connected with the Four Winds or cardinal directions (Hewitt, 1928, 468). An interesting, potential echo of this ancient Keeping is found in a Seneca version that told the puzzling story of four children -- two male and two female -- who were Man-Beings (Hewitt, 1903, 233). The story of the quadruplets, however, is almost completely lost today. The four children of the Lynx were eventually compressed to two, with the personality traits of the four redistributed between them.

As told in modern times, the Lynx overheard the twin sons in her womb discussing their plans for the earth life they were about to live. One already knew that he was to create game animals and new trees, but the other was more vague on specifics, merely announcing that he, too, would create in one way or another (Hewitt, 1928. 486). Labor pains overcame the Lynx a few days before her time, and she again overheard her sons holding forth, this time in a discussion over how best to be born because neither precisely knew how to do it. In an Onondaga version, one infant pointed toward the birth canal and said, "I'll go that way, " and he did, being first born. The elder Twin became known as Tharonhiawakon, Odendonnia, Ioskaha (Sapling), meaning roughly the Spirit of Life (Hewitt, 1903, 138). Sapling was perfectly formed in the eyes of Sky Woman.

The Younger Twin protested his brother's path. "But this other way is so near," he said, pointing in some versions to the armpit and in others to the navel of his mother. "I shall leave that way," he said, and he did, killing his mother in parturition (Hewitt, 1903, 185). Some Mohawks say that the second son, Tawiskaro (Flint) was born with a comb of flint on his head, by which means he had cut an exit path through his mother's armpit (ibid., 185). Some Senecas say that he leapt forth from her navel, all covered with warts (ibid., 231).

However it happened, by armpit or caesarean section, when Sky Woman saw that her beloved daughter was dead, she sat on the ground and wept inconsolably. She buried her daughter most tenderly, and from the Lynx's grave sprang all the plants of life: Corn, Beans, and Squash grew from her breasts; potatoes sprang from her toes and tobacco grew from her head (Thomas, 2000). The Lynx had transmuted into Mother Earth, a living entity (Hewitt, 1928, 542). Despite the continued spirit existence of her daughter, Sky Woman's grief almost undid her. It was then that Sky Woman grew suddenly old, becoming known in her turn as the Ancient or Grandmother. Her grief soured into a bitterness of temperament that she had not possessed. She became grumpy and impatient in her old age.

Like Sky Woman and the Lynx before them, the Twins grew rapidly, showing their great spirit power. They soon began to complete the process of creation, although there were many disagreements between the brothers as to what final creation should look like. While Sapling was bringing forth his trademark strawberries, Flint was littering the landscape with brambles and briars. If Sapling created peaceful game animals, Flint responded with a spate of roaring, clawing, dangerous beasts.

Creation of Sun, Moon & Stars
The creation of the sun, moon and stars is variously attributed to Sky Woman and Sapling. The oldest Wyandot and Onondaga versions give Sky Woman or the Elder Earth animals credit for creating the sun, moon, and stars, especially the Milky Way (Barbeau, 1915, 41). A Seneca version has Sky Woman creating the heavens almost immediately after her arrival on earth (Hewitt, 1903, 226-227). Hewitt also recorded a Mohawk story of Grandmother using dead Lynx's body parts as the material of the heavens (ibid., 295-296), but the Lynx is emphatically Mother Earth in all versions and the Moon is Grandmother, leaving the origin of this version vague and questionable. Yet other versions, following the post-missionary trend of giving Saplin sole credit for creation, showed him hanging the heavens after the fashion of the Christian god (Hewitt, 1903, 208; 1928, 542-543).

One thing became immediately apparent in nearly every version of Creation: Flint was not nearly as skillful a creator as his brother. This was apparent not only in the animals that each brought forth, but also in their attempts at creating humanity. Some say that whereas Sapling created humankind, Flint in a rival bout of creation only managed to bring forth monkeys (Barbeau, 1915, 51). Others contend that one day Flint noticed that Sapling had made human beings. Marveling at the feat, he sought to replicate it, going through inferior and unworkable models before he managed a viable version, with the kindly advice of Sapling, who stopped by periodically to check on his little brother's progress.

Flint's first human was mostly made of water and therefore failed to breathe. On his second try, Flint added samples of his own mind, blood, spirit, and breath and finally succeeded in creating a living being, although his creation still lacked luster compared to Sapling's model. It is uncertain just what this creature was intended to have been in the older traditions -- perhaps a bear --- but post-contact, the Iroquois quickly realized that Flint's water man was the European. By contrast, Sapling had created the True Humans or Native Americans (Hewitt, 1928, 523-525; for a late version of Flint's creation of Europeans, see Parker, 1913, 16-19).

An older Mohawk version ended the creation story by engaging the brothers in a tit-for-tat spat that escalated into a lethal confrontation. The two lived together in a lean-to, one with a side taller than the other. Flint dwelled at the shorter end and Sapling at the taller. One day, Sapling stoked their shared fire to perilous intensity until it began to chip the chert from Flint's flinty legs. When his complaints did not persuade Sapling to lessen the flames, Flint saw that his brother meant him harm. He ran outside swiftly, looking for a cutting reed and a cattail spear, both of which he knew were harmful to his brother. The fight then spiraled out of control, with the two furiously chasing each other across Turtle Island, leaving huge chasms and water-filled depressions where their feet landed in their hurry. In this version, Sapling killed Flint, whose prone body transmuted into the Rocky Mountains. His spirit dwells to this day inside those mountains (Hewitt, 1903, 328-332).

Flint was not permanently dead, however (Hewitt, 1928, 547). All spirits continue to live, often in renewed bodies (Hewitt, 1903, 218-219). Throughout Iroquoian history, Sapling continued reincarnating, most notably as the Peacemaker, creator of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy, to aid his favorite creations, human beings; the Lynx became Mother Earth, and Grandmother became the smiling face of the Moon.

Excerpted from "The Native Peoples of North America: A History" by Bruce E. Johansen, Rutgers University Press, 2005.

Skywoman on Turtle's back. (Courtesy of John Kahionhes Fadden)

Libraries are on this row
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)

Cinnamon Moon
© Copyright: Cinnamon Moon & River WildFire Moon (Founders.) 2000-date
All rights reserved.

Site constructed by Dragonfly Dezignz 1998-date

River Moon