The Passamaquoddy people are Native American of the USA and First Nations of Canada, whose traditional homeland, Peskotomuhkatik, spans Maine, USA and New Brunswick Province of Canada. This was part of a region known as Dawnland, the land of the Wabanaki Confederacy, a federation of four primary Eastern Algonquian nations: the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet (Wolastoqey), Passamaquoddy (Peskotomahkati) and Penobscot. The following story retells a traditional Passamaquoddy tale called, “The Thunder People,” collected by Julia Darrow Cowles in her anthology, Indian Nature Myths.
The Thunder People
One day a young warrior of the Passamaquoddy folk out hunting with bow and arrow roused a deer that sped off through the wilds. Excitedly, he gave chase, knowing he could not match its speed, but noted its course and followed behind at a steady pace, hoping it would settle down and rest, giving him a chance to catch up. He tracked it steadily across the country until he found himself on a high rocky escarpment overlooking a plain. On the horizon, he saw heavy black clouds moving ominously over the plain towards him. He was far from home and sought somewhere to shelter from the storm.
Gazing around, he was surprised and pleased to see the deer sheltering under a crag of the rock. He drew his bow, notched an arrow, and took aim, but as he was about to fire, the thunder spoke, and the deer transformed into a maiden. Instead of firing, he lowered his bow and stared at her in amazement.
Then, the thunder spoke again, and he asked, “Who are you?”
She replied, “I am the Thunder Maiden, sister of the Thunder Men, daughter of the Thunder Father of the Thunder Family. I invite you to visit my home, the country of the thunder.”
The youth was utterly astonished and continued to gaze at her speechlessly as if in a dream. Once again, the thunder spoke, jolting him back to reality. His attention turned to the gathering gloom and heaviness of the air and the approaching storm that would soon unleash its fury on the world. He knew the crag the deer sheltered offered little protection as the storm would sweep in from the plain and lash hard against the cliff face. Moreover, he knew these sudden tempests could be dangerous if caught in the open. It would be a cold, wet, miserable experience, and there was also the risk of being struck by lightning. Yet, it was not just for these reasons he accepted her invitation. It mainly was to remain in the company of the beautiful, intriguing Maiden and get to know her better.
The thunder spoke once more, followed by a blinding flash of light. It was unlike yellow lightning that forks down from the sky. Instead, it was pure white and came from the air around him and the Maiden. He saw behind her a shimmering entrance, and she gestured to him to follow her and stepped through. Hesitating momentarily, the youth stepped through into a strange but intensely beautiful country beyond.
The Country of the Thunder Maiden
It was a country made of clouds of ever-changing colour and varying hues, from the lightest silvery grey to the darkest purple-black, beautiful beyond the invention of the most skilled artist. The hills, woods, rivers, lakes, and landscape appeared ethereal and vaporous. Yet, the ground was solid but with a soft velvety smoothness that made walking upon it a sheer pleasure and the world in all its entirety was made of these beautiful clouds.
The Maiden was now wearing a long gown of shimmering silver, her long midnight black hair flowing down her back. Eagerly, she led the youth through the curious, exquisitely beautiful wonderland to her father, who sat on a misty, darkly purple throne. His hair was long and flowing white, like the misty trails that floated across the sky, and he wore a black robe decorated with flashes of shining gold.
He smiled them and said to the youth, “Welcome! Would you like to live among us?”
The youth looked to the Maiden and back at him and said, “Yes, Father.”
The Thunder Country
The Thunder Father smiled gladly and consented, and the Thunder Folk accepted the youth as one of the family. Sometime later, the Maiden’s brothers, the Thunder Men, who wore great purple wings, returned home. Hearing the news, they met the youth and invited him to play a game of spheres. The spheres were black, large, and heavy and were bowled back and forth across the tops of the clouds, causing a great rolling, rumbling, sound. The Thunder Father saw the youth was athletic and good at rolling the spheres and decided he should join his sons in causing the thunder of the storms.
The following day as the Thunder Men were putting on their great purple wings, the Maiden brought a pair for the youth and a bow and arrows of burning gold. She showed him how to fasten the wings to his shoulder, and as soon as he was ready, he joined the Thunder Men, and they all flew off. The company flew across the sky, shooting golden arrows from their bows, their wings causing powerful currents. The people on Earth experienced this as a terrific gale and heard its great roaring and rushing as it raced across the Earth. The earth folk saw lightning zigzag across the sky, followed by long, rumbling, rolling thunder crashes.
With the darkness under the black clouds, the roaring of the wind, the pelting rain and the wild thunder and lightning, people became afraid and hid. But there was no need for fear. The Thunder Father had instructed the Thunder Men to only aim their arrows at their enemy, the Great Bird of the south, saying sternly, “Do not harm the earth folk, and do not fly too low! Be sure not to harm the trees, for they are friends.”
Therefore, the Thunder Men flew over the Earth, playing their game, taking care of where they directed their golden arrows. Eventually, they tired and flew back to their cloudland home and stripped the purple wings from their backs, ate and rested until their next game.
Moon after moon passed, and all this time, the youth had stayed with the Thunder Maiden finding exquisite pleasure in her company. He enjoyed being one of the Thunder Men and rolling the spheres across the sky. He was humbled they has so readily accepted him as a brother and grateful for their friendship, and loved and respected the Thunder Father. Above all, he deeply loved his daughter, theThunder Maiden.
Yet, despite all the happiness he had found in the country of the Thunder Family, he began to yearn to see his own family again. He missed his mother and father, brothers and sisters and the village where he was born and grew up. He missed the hunting of the deer and the smell of fire in his lodge, tinged with the aroma of roast venison. He missed the camaraderie of other warriors as they followed their chief in battle, and for all the pain and sorrow, he missed his life on Earth.
Therefore, he spoke his heart to the Thunder Father, who listened carefully and weighed up the situation thoughtfully. He decided the youth should be allowed to return to Earth if that was what he genuinely wanted. So, the Thunder Maiden brought his purple wings, fastened them around his shoulders, gave him his bow and golden arrows, and kissed him goodbye.
The youth flapped his purple wings and sped off to Earth, accompanied by the Thunder Men. As they drew closer to Earth, the people covered their ears against the crashes and rumbles, closed their eyes against brilliant flashes of gold lightning, and hurried to find shelter. Looking from within at the chaos outside, they declared there had never been such a storm.
As the Thunder Men descended to Earth, for long seconds, it seemed like the world might end, so loud and powerful was the storm. However, the Thunder Men did not linger, leaving their adopted brother on a hill and swiftly returning to the sky. Then, as suddenly as the storm had arrived, it departed. The people on Earth came out from their shelters, saw a warrior descend from the sky to a nearby hill, and began making his way to their village.
His family saw and recognized him and ran joyfully to greet him, and everyone was curious to know where he had been for so long. Therefore, the youth called them together and told of his sojourn with the Thunder Maiden and her family in the beautiful country of clouds where the Thunder Family lived.
©15/04/2023 zteve t evans All rights Reserved.
References, Attributions and Further Reading
©15/04/2023 zteve t evans All rights Reserved
- Indian Nature Myths – Author: Julia Darrow Cowles – Illustrator: Dorothy Dulin – (1)“The Thunder Maiden Fastened His Purple Wings To His Shoulders And Bade Him Good-Bye”
- Passamaquoddy – Wikipedia
- Wolastoq – Wikipedia
- Wabanaki Confederacy – Wikipedia
- First Nations in Canada – Wikipedia
- Native Americans in the United States – Wikipedia