From the Mabinogion: The Dream of Macsen Wledig

templars_chess_libro-de-los-juegos_alfons-x

Public Domain Image  – Source

This was article was first published on #FolkloreThursday.com 30/11/2017,  titled British Legends: The Mabinogion – The Dream of Macsen Wledig written by zteve t evans.

British Legends:  The Mabinogion – The Dream of Macsen Wledig

The Dream of Macsen Wledig from the Mabinogion tells the story of how the Emperor of Rome experienced a dream in which he traveled to Wales, then met and became obsessed with a beautiful maiden named Elen. It is a story telling of a mythical past with legendary heroes involved in extraordinary adventures, that many people feel resonates today. The tales were created from traditional and existing works, using both written and oral sources, and were not original works. They were often reworked to reflect current issues, and are seen by many as an interpretation of a mythical past age while also providing an interpretation of the present. Presented here is a retelling of ‘The Dream of Macsen Wledig’ from The Mabinogion Vol. 2 by Sir Owen Morgan Edwards and Lady Charlotte Schreiber. 

Macsen Wledig

Macsen Wledig was an emperor of Rome who had thirty-two vassal kings in his retinue. One day, he proposed that they all join him for a day of hunting. The next day, bright and early, he set off leading the party into the countryside to a beautiful valley that a river flowed through on its way to Rome. It was a hot, sunny morning, and the party hunted throughout the valley until midday. With the sun at its height, Macsen Wledig suddenly began to feel very tired and ordered the party to take a break while he slept by the river.

The Dream of Macsen Wledig

His servants made a shelter for him out of shields, made a place on the ground for him to rest his head. Then they left him in peace and he lay down, and as he fell asleep a strange dream came to him. He found himself following the river along the valley, and eventually reaching its source at the foot of a mountain that was as high as the sky. He travelled on over the mountain, and on the other side found himself travelling through a fair country which he deemed the most beautiful in the world. Travelling on, he came across the wellspring of a river and followed it towards the sea where it grew into the widest river he had ever seen.

The City by the Sea

Standing majestically at the mouth of the river was a fair city that was enclosed by the walls of a massive castle. Its tower and turrets reached high into the sky, and many flags and banners of all colours and designs fluttered gaily in the breeze. Below the castle wall in the mouth of the river lay a great fleet of ships. The greatest and fairest of these had planks of gold and silver, and a bridge of white whale bone spanned the distance from the harbour side to the ship. Macsen Wledig found himself walking slowly over the bridge to stand on the ship. As soon as he was on board, the bridge of bone raised itself and the ship set sail towards the distant horizon to an unknown destination. After many days, the ship came to a beautiful island and lay at anchor.

The Fairest Island in the World

In his dream, Macsen Wledig went ashore and explored the island; travelling through its forests and valleys and crossing mountains and moors from coast to coast. Never before had he seen its like, and he thought it the fairest and most beautiful island in the world. Eventually, he came to a place in the mouth of a river where a majestic castle looked out over the sea. He went down to the castle and entered through its gates. Inside, he found the fairest hall he had ever seen. The walls were studded with gems of all kinds that glittered and shimmered in the sun, and the roof was of gold and gleamed gloriously.

Inside the Golden Hall

Stepping inside the hall, Macsen Wledig saw many fine pieces of furniture and rich decorations wherever he looked. On the far side of the hall, he saw two young men engaged in a game of chess on a wonderfully ornate chessboard. Sitting in a chair of ivory by a pillar of stone was a man with a rugged face and wild hair. On his head, he wore a diadem of gold and on his fingers were rings of precious metals set with gemstones. Golden bracelets adorned his wrists and arms, and around his throat he wore a torc of gold. Although the man was seated, it was clear he had a powerful physique and bearing, and he was engaged in the task of carving chess pieces.

Sitting before this strange man on a chair of burnished gold was a maiden whose beauty was more dazzling than the sun, and Macsen Wledig was almost blinded by her radiance. In his dream, she rose from her chair and he rose from his and they threw their arms around each other.  Then they sat down together, and their faces drew closer, and they sat together cheek to cheek and were poised to kiss.

Read More

 
Advertisements

Raven and the Haida People

The Haida people are native to areas of British Columbia, Canada and Alaska, USA. The  the archipelago of Haida Gwaii, is considered to be their heartland especially the two main islands.  The Haida tell many wonderful stories featuring Raven who in their mythology, legends and traditions is seen as a provider and bringer of light to humanity while also being a trickster.  It was Raven who was the transformer, healer and magician and yet is often presented as being greedy, lustful and mischievous. Yet despite these contradictions Raven is very much a cultural hero of the Haida.

Raven and the First People

In one creation myth they tell that before Raven all of the world was one enormous flood. The myth tells how there was once a time when there was nothing but water everywhere. One day Raven became bored and spread his wings and flew.  As he flew the waters began to recede. When Raven became hungry land was formed and Raven  settled on it and found food.

One day Raven heard strange noises coming from a shell.  This both intrigued and confused Raven. The strange sound from the clam became louder and more frantic and so Raven having a fine singing voice thought he would sing to it in the hope of soothing whatever was making the noise.  So Raven sung to it and eventually a small but extraordinary creature broke out of the shell. Indeed, it was a very peculiar with two legs, a head that was round and covered at the top in long black hair and soft skin. Unlike Raven it had no wings and no feathers.   This creature was the very first of the First People and more came from the shell and all of these were male.

To begin with Raven was intrigued but gradually grew bored with them and thought about putting them all back in the shell. Then he decided he would look for some females to keep all of these males company.   It so happened that Raven found some more people who were inside a another shell. Setting them free Raven discovered they were female people. He was enthralled as he watched how male and female interacted with each other and began to feel protective and responsible towards them.

Creation Myths

The Haida have other versions of  tales that tell how the world was created such as the one that follows.  There was a time when the world was just sky and water and in the water was a reef where the first beings lived.  The greatest of these beings lived upon the highest part of the reef and looked down on the lesser beings who lived on the lower parts of the reef.

Raven flew over the reef looking for a place to settle but could see no room to land. Therefore he decided to fly to the sky country and there he found the daughter of a Chief who had a young baby.   In the darkness of night Raven stole the child with the intention of taking its place as Raven Child.

Raven Brings the Sun, Moon and Stars

There is a very old story that tells how Raven brought the Sun, the Stars, the Moon and fresh water and fire to the world to benefit the people.  It tells how in the the beginning of the world the guardian of the Sun, Moon, Stars, fresh water and fire was Gray Eagle. He hated people and hid beneficial things from them. He hid the Sun, the Moon, the Stars and fresh water and fire from them and the people were cold and lived in darkness.

In these early days of the world Raven was pure white and he fell in love with the daughter of Gray Eagle who thought him very handsome in white.  One day she invited him to visit her in her father’s longhouse. When Raven arrived he saw that the Sun, the Moon, the Stars, along with fresh water were all hanging up around the sides of Gray Eagle’s home. When he knew no one was looking he stole them and also took a burning brand from the fire and flew out of the smoke hole in the roof  with his loot.  Flying up high in the sky he hung the Sun up and its light flooded out over the Earth lighting and warming  he day. In fact there was so much light he could see far enough to fly out across the ocean to an island situated in its middle .  When the Sun wet down he hung up the Moon and Stars in different parts of the sky and by this light he flew back to the land carrying the fresh water and the firebrand.  

When he reached the land he found what he thought was a good place and dropped the fresh water.  Where it landed on the ground became the source of all of the freshwater that creates all of rivers, lakes and  streams in the world today.

Raven flew on holding the flaming brand in his beak and as he flew the smoke from the fiery brand flowed over his snowy white feathers turning them black. As he flew the brand burnt smaller and smaller and eventually it began to burn his beak and Raven was forced to drop it.  The burning brand fell from the sky and crashed into rocks and instantly concealed itself inside of them. This is how the sparks that appear when two stones are struck together got in the stone and why we can make fire from them.

As for Raven he lost his white plumage after it was covered in soot from the firebrand and that is why today all of his feathers are black.

© 11/04/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright April 11th, 2018 zteve t evans

Haida Tales: Raven and the Coming of the Salmon

The Haida are a native North American people living around Haida Gwaii, formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands and parts of Alaska.  Their territory spans between British Columbia, Canada and Alaska, USA.  As islanders they lived in a rugged landscape with abundant wildlife and cedar forests, and developed an affinity with the sea which also provided food for them.  Over the centuries their environment helped to shape a rich and wonderful culture. One of the products of that culture was a mythology that produced stories that explained how the natural world around them worked.  Many of these stories feature Raven who has a twofold nature of being a provider bringing benefit to humans or a trickster. Presented here is a retelling of one of those stories.

The Coming of the Salmon

Long ago among the Haida people a little girl had a magnificent dream.  She dreamed of a beautiful fish that she had never seen before.  When she awoke from her dream she cried because she wanted the beautiful fish so much.  Her father who was an Haida Chief asked her why she cried and she described the fish to him.  However, he could not help her because he had never seen such a fish and did not know where to find one.  So he went among his people and described the fish to them and asked them if they knew where he could find one. The people had seen plenty of fish of many different kinds but they had never seen a fish like the one his daughter described in her dream and could not help him.

Meanwhile his little daughter continued to cry and cry and cry for what no one could give her.  She cried so much her health began to fail. Her worried father called a Great Council of the medicine men and chiefs from the neighboring villages to seek their help. They all came and sat around the fire in his great lodge.  After all the formalities were over he told them of the dream that was upsetting his little girl.  He described the fish to them as she had told him and asked if they knew anything of it.

All the chiefs and all of the medicine men listened carefully to what he said. They thought long and hard but none of them knew anything of the big, beautiful, fish or where it could be found.  Then one medicine man stood up and after paying his respects tothose present said,

“Our Chief’s daughter weeps for something from a dream that we have never seen.  None of us have seen a fish likes she describes. There are many fish in the waters and some are big but not as big as she describes.  If we could find such a fish our people would benefit greatly. Maybe there is one among us who knows where such a big and beautiful fish can be found.”

Then one very old and  wise medicine man stood up and after paying his respects to all present said,

“With the agreement of this council I will go to the cedar trees where my good friend Raven lives and ask him for his counsel.   He is very wise and knowledgeable and I ask permission to bring him before the Council and seek his advice.”

All of the chiefs and the medicine men agreed so he went to Raven to ask if he would attend the council and bring his wisdom to bear on the problem. Raven agreed and returned with his friend the old medicine man who sat before the council with the wise bird perched on his shoulder.  Thus spoke Raven,

“I know the fish in the dreams of the daughter of the chief. I know its name and where it lives.   She is dreaming of a big and beautiful fish called a salmon. These fish live a long way from here at the mouth of a great river.   The Haida people are my friends and so I will fly far and swift and I will bring back a salmon.”

With that Raven flew fast and hard high up in the sky until he saw far below the mouth of a mighty river opening into the sea.  Circling around he saw swarms of salmon swimming in the sea. Swooping down quickly he caught in his claws the small son of the Salmon Chief and flew quickly back to the village of the Haida people with the fish in his talons.

The Salmon Chief was shocked at the loss of his son and sent out scouts who leapt high in the air out of the water and saw the direction in which Raven flew.   The Chief Salmon called together his people and they followed their scouts in pursuit.

Arriving back at the Haida village Raven dropped the salmon before the young daughter of the chief.  Immediately on seeing the fish she stopped her crying and laughed and clapped her hands in delight. Then Raven told the old medicine man that many, many, salmon now followed him and would soon be swimming into the mouth of their river.

The medicine man then told the counsel what Raven had said and it was decided that a great net would be woven ready for their arrival.  When the salmon swam into the mouth of the river many of them were caught in the net. To keep all of the salmon from escaping the people passed a leather thong through their gills tying one end to a large boulder and the other to the people’s great totem which was a living cedar tree.  They named it ‘Nhe-is-bik’ and carved the images of a Thunderbird, a chief, and a salmon upon it.   This was the beginning of a magical event that happened from then on every year as the salmon returned looking for their lost son.

© 04/04/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright April 4th, 2018 zteve t evans

 

The Eskimo Folktale of the Red Skeleton

james_ward_-_a_human_skeleton_-_google_art_project_287agttablsc-gdw29.jpg

Image by James Ward [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Ophan Boy

There was once a poor Eskimo boy who lived in a village on Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska.  The boy was an orphan and because of this he had no one to look after him of fend for him and some of the villagers treated him very badly.  They made him run errands for them and made him work for them.

He was allowed  to stay in the kashim, the villagers community building, in bad weather and sleep there. There came a night when it was snowing thick and fast and the adults ordered him to go out in the cold to see if the weather was getting worse or if it looked as if it might clear up.  It was a terribly cold night and he had no boots and no warm clothes.  He did not want to go but they pushed him out through the door and he ran to the edge of the village and looked at the night sky.  The snow had stopped but it was still perishing cold and he ran back with the news, banging on the door and shouting, “Good news! The snow had stopped now, but it is still very, very cold. Please let me in!”

Read More

Native American Tales: Skeleton Island

This is a retelling of a Native American story from  The Myths of the North American Indians, (1914), collected by Lewis Spence called The Friendly Skeleton.

The Boy in the Woods

Once there was a boy who lived in the woods with his elderly uncle.   Although the boy was free to play in the woods close to the lodge his uncle always warned him that he must not go eastwards.  The boy was always full of life and like most boys filled with a natural curiosity about his surroundings and explored the woods all around his uncle’s lodge except those that lay to the east.  Although the boy often wondered what could possibly lie eastwards he always obeyed his uncle’s warning.

One day his uncle went on a long hunting expedition  leaving the boy alone in the lodge. After playing in the woods north, south and west the boy became bored and he thought about his uncle’s warning not to go eastwards.  The more he thought about it the more his curiosity was aroused and he decided he would go eastwards in the woods but be very, very careful.

The Stranger

He set off to the east through the woods and eventually came to a large lake and he stopped on its shores to rest and noticed there was an island in the middle of it .  While he was resting a strange man approached him and asked him his name and where he had come from and the boy told him.

After he had told him the stranger said, “Very well, now let us fire an arrow and see who can shoot it the highest”  The boy agreed and he shot his arrow much higher than the man did.  Next the stranger suggested they have a competition to see who could swim the furthest underwater without coming up for breath.  Once again the boy won the competition. Then the stranger suggested they sail to the island in the middle of the lake to see the beautiful birds that lived there.

Skeleton Island

The stranger showed the boy his canoe which was most strangely carved and was pulled by three swans.  Two swans were harnessed to each side and one was tethered to the front.  The man motioned the boy to take a seat next to him in the canoe and began singing a strange song.  The swans moved off taking the canoe along with them.  It didn’t take them long to reach the island which the boy now noticed was a considerable distance from the shore and surrounded by deep water making him feel his trust in a stranger was foolish.

Then the strange man ordered him to undress and he took his clothes and got back into the boat and said,  ‘Come swans, let us go home,”  and the swans took him in the canoe back towards the shore leaving the boy naked and alone on the island.

The Skeleton

The boy was angry at his own foolish naivety but as  evening came and darkness fell he began to feel very cold, very miserable and very frightened.  Huddled alone in the darkness to his utter shock he heard a husky voice nearby that appeared to be talking to him.  Looking around the boy was terrified to see lying on the ground next to him a bleached white skeleton.  “I feel very sorry for you and I will help you if you will help me.” With no other choice the boy agreed though he too felt sorry for the skeleton.

The Skeleton then told him, “I will tell you that tonight a man is coming to look for you.  If you make as many tracks as you can all over the island and hide in that hollow tree over there, the man will become confused by so many marks and will not find you.”

The boy obeyed the skeleton and when the man came ashore he had three dogs with him.  Fortunately the boy had made so many tracks going this way and that all over the island that the dogs were so confused they could not find him in his hiding place and the man left empty handed and angry.

The next morning the boy went to the skeleton  who said, “Beware, tonight the man who brought you to this island is coming back to drink your blood.  You must dig a hole in the sand on the shore and hide in it.  When his canoe arrives and he steps onto the island you must quickly jump into the canoe and say to the swans, ‘Come swans, let us go home,” and they will immediately take the canoe back with you on board.  The man will call to you but you must not look back.”

Escape From Skeleton Island

So the boy dug a hole in the sand and hid in it.  Just as the skeleton had said the canoe arrived and the man got out and stepped ashore and began searching for the boy.  The boy jumped in the canoe and said,  ‘Come swans, let us go home,” and began to sing just as he had heard the stranger sing when he had brought him in the canoe to the island.  The man called to him but the boy did not look back and the swans took the canoe back to a cave on the shore of the lake.

The boy found his clothes in the cave and put them on and found plenty of food and he ate his fill.  He then lay down and went to sleep.   The next morning he went back to the island and found the dead body of the stranger lying in the sand.  He went to see the skeleton who told him he must now take the canoe and go eastwards across the lake to look for his sister who an evil man had captured many years ago to be his wife.

The Evil Man

He set off eastwards across the lake in the canoe and after three days he came to the place where the evil man kept his sister which was just a hut.  The evil man was out and he soon found his sister and said, “Sister, Let us go quickly from this place now!”

“I dare not! An evil man keeps me here and he will be back any minute and will surely catch us.   Let me hide you away and in the morning we shall runaway together!”  said she said.  She dug a hole and told her brother to hide in it and just as she had finished hiding him the evil man came into the hut with his dogs demanding his dinner. The boy’s sister had cooked a child for the evil man and put it before him.  He looked on her grimly and said, “You have had visitors while I was out!.”

The girl shivered inside and tried not to let him see this and said, “No one has been and you are the only person I have seen.”  But the evil man said, “I will wait until tomorrow and then I will find and kill him and you shall cook him for me to eat!”  

He knew someone was there by the way the dogs were snuffling about.  He said nothing more and the next morning he left the hut saying he was going hunting to a distant swamp.  However, instead of going hunting he hid himself where he could easily spy on the entrance to the hut.  Presently he saw the boy and his sister leave the hut and make their way to the lake shore and get into a canoe.  Barely had they sat down when they saw him running quickly towards them with a large hook in his hand which he threw and it latched onto the vessel as they moved through the water and he began pulling them back.  The boy reached down into the shallow water and grabbed a stone and smashed the hook with it and the canoe shot forward over the lake.

For a second the man did not know what to do and then he dropped down to the ground and began to drink in the water.   This began to draw the canoe back to him but the boy took aim and threw the stone hitting the man on the head killing him instantly.   This caused the water to gush out of him and back into the lake sending the canoe rapidly on its way.

Return to Skeleton Island

In three days time the brother and his sister arrived back on the island and together they went to see the skeleton to thank him. The skeleton told the boy that it was now turn for the boy to help him as he had promised.  He said,

“Take your sister back to your uncle’s lodge and then return to the island.  There are very many bones laid around the island and when you come back in a loud voice tell them to arise and this will bring them all back to life.”

When the brother and sister arrived at their uncle’s lodge the old man was delighted to see them back safe and sound.  He had come home to find the boy gone and had spent the rest of the time worrying and fretting over his safety.  On hearing about the boy’s adventures he advised they should build a new lodge to accommodate all the people who he would bring back with him.   When the lodge was finished the boy went back to the island and said in a loud voice, “All arise!” and the bones formed into people and he took them back to the new lodge he and his uncle and sister had built for them.  There they all lived very happily together for a very long time.

© 25/10/2017 zteve t evans

Reference, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright October 10th, 2017 zteve t evans

Petrification Myths: The Legend of Mount Kinabalu, Borneo, Malaysia

g-kinabalu

By hirosi SBM (hirosi SBM) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Mount Kinabalu is located upon the island of Borneo in its northern part of Sabah, East Malaysia and is the tallest mountain in Borneo and Malaysia.  Being such a dominant feature of the landscape it is the subject of many myths, legends and folklore.

The Legend of Mount Kinabalu

There is more than one theory as to how the mountain received its name and the one presented is a legend that tells that there was once a prince of China who was undertaking a sea voyage when his ship ran into a storm and was wrecked in the South China Sea.  He was cast adrift and rescued by fishermen of a nearby fishing village who took him back to their village.  He had received some severe injuries in his ordeal and as he slowly recovered from his injuries and trauma he became accepted into the village and he met and fell in love with a local girl.

The two married and were very happy for many years.  He lived his life in the same way as his neighbors and they saw him as one of their own.  Even though he had been born a prince of China he felt at home with them and they with him.  However, over the years a deep feeling of longing crept upon the prince.  He began to feel homesick and wanted to see his homeland but most of all wanted to see his parents who were none other than the Emperor and Empress of China.  Therefore after much thought and agonizing he asked the permission of his new family to go and visit his parents.   After promising that he would return to Borneo soon to take his wife and family back to China he was given permission reluctantly by his wife and her family.

The prince returned to China and was given a hero’s welcome by his family and the people.   The Emperor and Empress of China although happy to see their son were not happy that he had married a poor village girl from Borneo and forbade him not to bring his family over from Borneo to China.  They told him they had arranged for him to be married to a princess from a neighboring country to cement an alliance between the two nations.  This meant that the prince had no choice other than respect the wishes of his parents even though it broke his heart, but nevertheless he obeyed

Back  in the village in Borneo his young wife waited at first patiently trusting her husband to return.  As time passed by and he did not come she became more and more anxious and worried.    The family lived some way from the village which was situated on the coast and she could not travel there every day as she would have liked.  Instead she decided that to get a better view of the ships that sailed into the harbor she would climb to the top of a nearby mountain so that she could watch over the sea for the approach of any sailing ship. Every morning at sunrise she would climb to the top and gaze out over the sea seeking her husband’s returning ship.  As The sun went down and night came she would descend the mountain to tend to her children.

The mountain was high and the climb to the top was hard and eventually the continued effort began to tell on her and sap her strength.  One day after a hard climb she fell ill as she stood on the top looking out over the sea hoping to see a ship carrying her husband back from China.   Sadly,  as the sunset and the cold night closed in around her she passed away.

mt-_kinabalu_rock_face2c_trick_of_the_shadow2c_dec_2011

By Bundusan [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The Mountain Spirit

The spirit of the mountain had grown to know her and respected her dedication, faith and loyalty to her husband and was touched by her death.    As a long lasting tribute to her he turned her into stone so that her face looked out forever over the South China Seas for the return of her husband.  When the people of her village discovered she was dead and saw her face looking out over the ocean they named the mountain “Kinabalu” in tribute to her example of faith, love and loyalty.

© 27/09/2017 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright September 27th, 2017 zteve t evans

 

Mountain Legends and Folklore: Devils Tower, Wyoming, USA

lossy-page1-640px-devils_tower2c_also_known_by_more_benign_names2c_including_bear_lodge2c_by_indigenous_american_indians2c_in_northeastern_wyoming_lccn2015634203-tif

Devil’s Tower, Carol M. Highsmith [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Devil’s Tower in Wyoming has a familiar look about it for many people who watched the classic 1974 sci-fi movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  That is because it was the place that people desperately tried to reach to rendezvous with the giant alien spacecraft.  It is situated in Crook County in the Bear Lodge Mountains which is part of the Black Hills and not far from Sundance and Hulett in the north eastern part of Wyoming and rises to a height of 5,112 feet above sea level.  In 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt declared it a national park.  It was named Devil’s Tower in 1875 when an interpreter working for an expedition led by Colonel Richard Irving Dodge who mistakenly interpreted a Native American name for it as “Bad God’s Tower”.   The Native Americans have several names for it including, Bear’s House, Bear’s Tipi, Bear’s Lodge and many others and features in many myths, legends and traditions.

Native American Folklore

The Kiowa and the Lakota people have a legend that tells how it originated.  This tells how a group of young girls were out playing when they came across several gigantic bears who on seeing then gave chase.  To escape the bears the girls climbed to the top of the summit and got down on their knees and prayed to the Great Spirit.   The Great Spirit heard their prayers and caused the rock to rise up from the ground towards the sky out of the reach of the bears. The bears tried to climb up to get them and dug their claws in the rock to gain a grip but kept sliding down because it was too steep for them to climb.  Their claws scratched the straight vertical marks that are seen to this day in the sides of the massive rock tower.  As the tower reached the sky the girls were transformed into a group of stars that are now called the Pleiades.

lossy-page1-640px-devils_tower2c_also_known_by_more_benign_names2c_including_bear_lodge2c_by_indigenous_american_indians2c_in_northeastern_wyoming_lccn2015634170-tif

Devil’s Tower, or Bear Lodge – Carol M. Highsmith [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A Sioux Legend

One day two young Sioux boys roamed far from their village when they had the bad luck to come across Mato the bear. Mato was a gigantic bear who had massive sharp claws on his front paws.  As soon as he saw the boys he became intent on catching and eating them and chased after them.  Although the boys ran fast Mato ran faster and as he was about to pounce the boys prayed to the Great Spirit for help.   He heard their prayer and caused a great tower of rock to rise out of the ground underneath the boys who were lifted up beyond the reach of Mato who left his claw marks the sides of the tower of rock trying to climb up to get at them.   Eventually, tired and frustrated he sauntered off to look for an easier meal and eventually rested at a place now called Bear Butte.

The Cheyenne Legend

In a Cheyenne version of the legend a group of girls are chased by giant bears and most of them are killed.  Two sisters manage to escape and make it back to their village but the bear has followed them there.  The girls tell their brothers that the bear can only be killed by an arrow shot through the underside of its paw.  The brothers tell their sisters to lead it to Devil’s Tower and trick it into thinking they had climbed up it to escape.  This they did and the bear attempted to climb the rock tower clawing at its face but each time it slips down leaving its claw marks. As the bear is trying to climb the brothers are shooting arrows at its paws and eventually one arrow comes close to its mark scaring the bear off and the arrow continued to fly higher and higher and never came down.

The Northern Cheyenne Legend

There is a Northern Cheyenne legend which tells how a man fell asleep at the bottom of the tower of rock next to the head of a buffalo head.  In the morning when he woke up he discovered both he and the buffalo head by some unknown magic had been transported to the top of the rock.  Looking all around her could for see for miles in all directions but could see no way down.  He had no choice other than stay where was for another another day and night with no food or water.  So he spent the day praying and then went to sleep.  When he woke up the next morning  he had returned to the base of the massive rock where he has first gone to sleep.   According to legend the buffalo’s head could be still be seen on high by using a telescope and in those days the Devil’s Tower had never been climbed so there was no logical explanation as to how it got there.  The buffalo head had special significance to the Northern Cheyenne.  It was there practice in their camps to keep a sacred teepee dedicated to the Great Medicine where they kept the sacred objects of the people.  The sacred object of the Northern Cheyenne was a buffalo head which makes the story more significant for them.

animal-1283347_1920

Bear by Pexels – Pixabay – Pixabay License

The Legend of Mato the Bear

Another legend tells how two young boys playing in the sagebrush on the great prairie.  They had been shooting arrows seeing how far they could fire them and roamed further and further from home.  As they were having fun they heard a noise like a small animal would make and went to investigate.   Creeping along in the direction came from they found a stream of fast running water that flowed over a bed of many colored pebbles.   The boys followed it for a while and came across a herd of deer, which they just had to track for a while.  After tracking the deer for a while they realized they were hungry and decided to return home, but realized they had no idea which way to go.  They decided to go in one direction but this only took them further and further from their home village.

As the day wore on the boys grew tired and finding a tree went to sleep under its branches.  The next morning they woke and still had no idea which way was home but chose to head west.  They managed to find berries and roots which ket them from starving and they slaked their thirst from the streams of clear water they crossed. For the next three days they continued walking into the west and despite being tired and footsore they found enough wild food and water to survive on.  They desperately wished their parents or their older brothers and sisters would turn up and find them but no one came.

On the fourth day the boys began to feel nervous and realized they were being tracked.  Although the boys had wanted to be found they wanted it to be by their family or friends or by someone who could help them, but they knew that this was no friend tracking them but Mato the bear.  Mato was a bear of gargantuan stature and so big both the boys together would be nothing but a snack to it.  He had picked up the scent of the boys from afar and followed it and was now hot on their trail and approaching fast.  Seeing him approach the boys ran off as fast as they could look for a place to hide but there was nowhere.  The giant bear was much faster than they and was rapidly catching them up and in their fear they stumbled.  He reared above them and they saw his great red maw full of sharp teeth and his hot breath was like a flame.   The boys had been taught about the Great Spirit and how to pray and called upon him to save them.  As Mato was about to strike the earth trembled and rose taking the boys high into the sky out of reach of the great bear.

The boys found themselves on tower of rock that kept rising higher and higher.  The boys looked all around and could see they were high above the ground and below them was the angry bear.  Mato had long sharp claws like steel and tried to climb up the rock tower after the boys but although he dug his claws in he kept slipping down.  As he slipped he left great grooves in the rock face from his claws that can be seen today.  Eventually he gave up and wandered off looking for easier game.    The boys were hundreds of feet in the air and could see the countryside for miles around and wondered how they could get down but they could see no way.  Wanblee the great eagle, who was a friend of their people saw him and came and carried them back safely to their people and they told them the marvelous tale of their escape from Mato the bear.

© 09/08/2017 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright August 8th, 2017 zteve t evans