North American Mythology: The First Hummingbird

selasphorus_rufus_on_saltspring_island

Hovering male rufous hummingbird – Image by Ryan Bushby(HighInBC) – CC BY 2.5

In her book, The Book of Nature Myths (1904) Florence Holbrook collected over fifty traditional Native American myths and legends many of which tell of the origin of how things came to be.   What follows is a rewrite of The Story of the First Hummingbird.

The Great Fire Mountain

In a time when the earth was still young and growing there were two hunters in the forest searching for game.  They had followed the trail of a deer for many days and had traveled a great distance from their village, much further than they or any other villager had ever been before.  When evening came and the sun began to slowly sink and darkness fell all around them they stopped to rest for the night.  Huddling together for warmth they looked out over the western sky and saw a bright light glowing in the distant darkness, flickering, red, yellow and orange.

“What can that be?” said one.

“It must be the moon,” said the other.

“Surely not.  We have seen many moons and we have seen it round and full and we have seen its shapes and it is not like we have seen before.  Could it be the northern lights?”

“We have seen the northern lights and they are not like this,” replied the other.

“Whatever can they be?” said the other.

“Perhaps it is the fire of the Great Spirit and maybe he is cooking?” one asked.

“Perhaps he is angry with us and will punish us with flames!” said the other.

With nothing else to be done until sunrise, they sat up all night watching as the lights flickered red, yellow and orange in the western sky.  At sunrise, they were astonished to see flames of red, yellow and orange flickering on the distant horizon and thick plumes of dark, blue smoke rising high into the clear blue sky.   They had no idea what the flickering flames could be so they decided they would go and see.  As they drew near they could see the flames and the smoke more clearly and saw they were rising from the crest of a steep mountain way off in the distance.

“It looks like a great mountain of fire, what shall we do?” said one.

“Let’s go a bit closer and see more,” said the other.

So they trekked on until they came so close they could see fire leaping out of splits in the mountainside and flickering around its peak like a fiery crown.

“It is a mountain of fire!  This will be of great help to our people.  Let’s go on,” said one,

They came to the foothills and climbed steadily up the sides of the fiery mountain until they stood right on its to top and looked down into its center and saw a sea of red hot molten rock with flames dancing across it.

One turned to the other and said, “We have discovered the secret of the fire mountain and our people will be so glad to have this.  Let us now go and tell them.”  Quickly, they made their way down the mountain and back through the forest to their village.

 “We have been far, much further than anyone else had ever been from the village and we have discovered a wonderful secret,” said one excitedly to the people who gathered around to greet their return.

“We have discovered the secret of where the Fire Spirit has her home.  We have found where the flames are kept that warm the children of the Great Spirit,” continued the other.

“We have found the fire mountain where the flames dance and the blue smoke rises day and night and at its top there lies a lake of fire and molten rock.  Come with us and we will lead you there,” said the first.

“And we shall never be cold again and always have a flame to cook with!” said the second.

The people were glad to hear this for they suffered greatly in the cold and snow of winter and needed flame to cook their game.  They all agreed it would be a wonderful thing to go and live on the Fire Mountain so they packed up their belongings and made ready to leave.

The two hunters led their people to the foot of the mountain of fire where they set up their village and were glad.  The Fire Spirit looked down and saw them come and was glad for them for she was a kindly spirit.  She knew they would benefit greatly from her fire when the hard, bleak,  months of winter came.  The people lived for many years at the foot of the mountain and gave thanks to the beneficence of the Fire Spirit who gave her flames to stop them perishing in the winter and to cook their food with.

The Dance of the Flames

volcc3a1n_tungurahua_2011

Image Attribution Dr. Carlos Costales Terán [CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Many moons passed and the people lived happily in their village at the foot of the Fire Mountain.  Often on summer evenings the children would gaze up to its summit and watch in wonder as the great flames flickered and danced and lit up the night sky and would ask,

“Father, what are the beautiful lights that dance upon the mountain top?” and the father would answer,  “The mountain is the home of the Fire Spirit and it is her flames that dance around the mountain top.  She is our friend gives us her flames to warm us in winter and for us to cook by.”  With that, the children would settle down and sleep safely and gently until dawn.

One night the flames on the mountain danced themselves into a frenzy leaping and jumping upon the molten lake like warriors dancing a great war dance.  In their excitement, they caught hold of great rocks and threw them high in the air.  Great plumes of blues smoke issued from from cracks and gaps that appeared on the mountain and billowed into the sky blackening out the moon and stars.  From deep within the mountain, the throbbing, beating sound of drums shook the ground and the flames danced wildly, higher and higher. In their frenzy, they left the fiery lake at the center of the mountain summit and ran wildly down the mountainside.

The gentle Fire Spirit was alarmed at her excited children and called to them, “Quiet now, calm yourselves, you will frighten the people of the village.  They will not understand that you are just dancing!”

The flames continued dancing wildly and were too excited to listen.  They ran down the mountainside burning flowers and trees and anything else that was in their path. They drove the animals away and hunted them in the woods below and frightened the birds causing them to take to the air.  Burning rivers of molten rock and flame annihilated all that stood in the way.  The Fire Spirit begged and pleaded with them to stop but they would not and headed towards the village.

In the village, all slept soundly unaware of the danger, but the acrid smell of the smoke awoke one of the warriors who looked out and saw the danger.  Crying out warnings he quickly roused the villagers.  In fear, the terrified villager quickly abandoned the village and ran into the forest as the flames descended upon their settlement and greedily ate the homes they had grown to love.

Thankfully all the villagers escaped into the forest unharmed though still terrified.  They huddled together and debated what they should do.  The two hunters said they would go up to the mountaintop and see what could be seen and they set off.  When they returned, they shook their heads sadly and one said, “All the flowers are burnt.  All the grass is burnt.  All the trees are burnt and the birds and animals have fled.  Nothing lives on or around the mountain.”

The other said, “It is bare and burnt nothing can live on or near the Fire Mountain.  The Fire Spirit is still there as her flames can be seen in the cracks and the fissures and smoke still rises, though it is much lighter.  We think the Fire Spirit will never again be our friend.”

The Hummingbird is Born of Flame

usfws_ribes_sanguineum_282612350882229

Female rufous hummingbird – Photo Credit: Peter Pearsall/USFWS – CC BY 2.0

The Great Spirit looked down and saw what damage the flames had done and he was angry.  “The flames must perish.  No longer will they dance and flicker in the night sky!”

The gentle Fire Spirit trembled for her wayward children.  “Great Spirit have mercy upon them!  It is true they grew wild and out of control, but they know not what they do.  They have burnt the flowers and grass, burnt the trees and driven away the birds and the animals and frightened off your own children and ate their village.  They have been cruel and unkind but they know not what they did.  

For many, many moons, in the coldness of winter, they have given their flames so the people and their children would not perish of cold and they could cook their food.  For many moons, they listened to me and were of great benefit to your children on earth, but in the wildness of their dance, they lost control.  How will your people keep warm and cook if the flames die completely from the earth?”

The Great Spirit heard the pleas of the gentle Fire Spirit and thought for a while but then said, “The flames must perish.  They lost control and were cruel to my children and they and their little children now fear them.  I hear what you say and the flames will not be lost entirely and they will still warm the people.  Because the people once loved them and because they know not what they did, the beauty of the flames shall live and warm and gladden the hearts of whoever looks upon them.”

Taking up his war-club the Great Spirit struck the top of the mountain a mighty blow.  The fires flickered and faded and the smoke slowly vanished and all the flames shrank slowly to condense into one small shining, flickering flame.  It was of such purity and glory and in its heart of hearts one tiny flame flicked with brilliant intensity.  The Great Spirit looked upon what he had done and was pleased.  It was looked like a star from the night sky but much brighter and much more beautiful.

“Although the fire of the mountain must perish this gentle flame shall have wings to fly and all my children will love her as I do myself!”  Thus, spoke the Great Spirit and from the mountain, a tiny bird fluttered up and hovered briefly.  Then it flew swiftly from the mountain into the blue sky.   As the sunshine caught upon its feathers they flickered, red, gold, orange and yellow and all the wonderful colors of the flame flickered from the bird.
So it was from the heart of the fiery mountain the bird of flame called the hummingbird was born and all the children of the Great Spirit that walk upon the earth rejoice whenever they see it.

© 12/07/2016 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright zteve t evans

Sacred Texts – THE BOOK OF NATURE MYTHS BY FLORENCE HOLBROOK [1904] – THE STORY OF THE FIRST HUMMINGBIRD

 

Chinese Mythology: The Eight Immortals

baxian

The Eight Immortals – Public Domain

The Eight Immortals

In Chinese mythology, the Eight Immortal were a legendary group of eight individual beings who had transcended the human state to become endowed with divine and supernatural attributes or powers.  Each immortal is endowed with a power that can give life or help their fight against evil.  Most of the Eight Immortals were born during either the Tang or Song dynasties and venerated by Taoists and became popular in Chinese culture.  This work is a brief introduction to the Eight Immortals who were; He Xiangu, Cao Guojiu, Li Tieguai, Lan Caihe, Lü Dongbin, Han Xiangzi, Zhang Guolao and Zhongli Quan and concludes with an observation about their popularity.

He Xiangu

He Xiangu was the only known female member of the Immortals.  While Lan Caihe, another Immortal, is often depicted dressed as a young girl, or sometimes a young boy, making gender uncertain, that of He Xiangu is clearly female. He is her family name and her father was known to be He Tai and was thought have lived during the Tang Dynasty.  She is often depicted holding a lotus flower and a musical instrument called a sheng.  Sometimes she is accompanied by the Fenghuang a mythical bird that was said to reign over all birds.

According to legend when she was born she had six long hairs growing from her head which indicated her as special. When she reached the age of 14 or 15 years old she experienced a dream where a divinity instructed her to eat powdered mica to make her body become light and delicate and to give her immunity from death.  She followed these instructions and abstained from sex and cut down on her food intake becoming like a wraith.  During the reign  of  Emperor Zhongzong during the Tang Dynasty, she gained immortality and transcended to Heaven.

Cao Guojiu

According to tradition, Cao Gujiu was descended from Cao Bin a distinguished Chinese general who went to great lengths to avoid killing non-combatants and innocent people and discouraged looting and pillaging by his troops over his defeated enemies.  Cao Gujiu was believed to be the younger brother of Empress Cao, who was married to Emperor Renzong of the Song Dynasty.  Cao had a younger brother by the name of Cao Jingzh who abused his position who and was corrupt and bullied those below him.

The actions of his younger brother embarrassed and ashamed Cao and he begged him to stop but to no avail.  Cao would use his own fortune to try and make amends for the misdeeds of his brother.  His younger brother’s bad behavior had made him enemies at the court of the emperor and he was charged with abusing his power and position.  Cao was so ashamed of his brother that he resigned from his own position and became a recluse in the countryside.   While living as a recluse he met Zhongli Quan and Lü Dongbin who taught him the magical arts. After many years of practice and dedication to Taoist principles he transcended the human condition to become immortal.

Li Tieguai

Li Tiegua had a reputation of being irritable and bad-tempered but was seen as being compassionate and caring towards the poor, sick and those in need.   He carried a gourd in which he carried special medicine which he dispensed to those in need.  Li Tiegua is often depicted in a rather unattractive way as being an old man with a wispy beard and unkempt hair.  He used an iron crutch to aid his walking and was often depicted as a type of clown or beggar who used his powers to benefit those in need.  He could be found wherever the sick needed curing or the oppressed needed freeing.   Li had been the apprentice of Lao-Tzu the founder of Taoism.

Lan Caihe

The age and gender of Lan Caihe are not known for sure.  Lan can be depicted as either a boy or girl often in clothing that was worn by either sex and  often carrying a flower basket made of bamboo, or castanets of the same material.  According to legend Lan was carried to Heaven by a crane or a swan while in a drunken stupor. Lan and was said to have become an Immortal when five hundred years worth of magic was transferred him by Sun Wukong who was also known as the Monkey King.

eight_immortals_crossing_the_sea_-_project_gutenberg_etext_15250

The Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea – Public Domain

Lü Dongbin

Lü Dongbin was said to have been born on the 14th day of the 4th month of the Chinese calendar.  When he was born the room was magically filled with a sweet fragrance.  According to tradition Lü Dongbin was a clever scholar and poet who was elevated to immortal status.  He is often depicted wearing the clothes of a scholar and carrying a sword on his back that he used to banish evil spirits. He was one of the most famous of the Eight Immortals and was especially revered by Taoists.

He was regarded as someone who was intelligent and scholarly with a strong desire to help others elevate their own spiritual growth but was seen as having certain character flaws. For example, he was known to be a “womanizer’ who was susceptible to getting drunk and he had bouts of anger, but he was also known for being a prolific poet.

Lü ‘s master was Chang An who put him through Ten Trials before he was told the secrets of life to become an Immortal.  He then improved upon the method so that more people could benefit which was considered to be his major contribution to the wellbeing of mankind and he strove to improve the health and life of many people.

Han Xiangzi

Han Xiangzi was a student of Lü Dongbi.  He is often seen in depictions holding a dizi, which is a kind of Chinese flute and was honored as the patron of flutists. He was believed to have composed a piece of music called Tian Hua Yin.  It is not known if Han Xiangzi actually existed at all but if he did he was thought to have been a grandnephew of an important scholar, poet, and politician by the name of Han Yu who was said to have dedicated three poems to him.

Zhang Guolao

Zhang Guolao was believed to have been a real historical figure and sometimes known as Zhang Guo.  He was thought to have lived from the about the end of the 7th century to about the middle of the 8th, living on Zhongtiao Mountain as a hermit at the time of the Tang Dynasty.

Zhang was a practitioner of necromancy and claimed he has been the Grand Minister to the legendary Emperor Yao in a previous existence.  He was known to enjoy drinking wine and made his own which was reputed to have medicinal and healing powers and greatly favored by others of the Eight Immortals.   Zhang was also a qigong master and was said to be able to abstain from food for many days existing only on small sips of his wine.

He had many special powers and was said to be able to turn invisible, drink poison without harm, make flowers wilt by pointing his finger at them and snatch birds from out of the sky.  In art, he is often depicted on the back of a white mule.  When the journey was over he would fold the mule up and place it in a box, or in his pocket for safe keeping.  When he needed the mule again he would he would pour water from his mouth onto it and the mule would regain its shape. His symbol was a fish-drum a kind of percussion instrument and sometimes he is shown with a peach or phoenix feather.

Zhongli Quan

Legend tells how when Zhongli was being born the room was filled with light and that he cried non-stop for seven days.  From this and because had was born with special physical features such as high cheeks and red lips, a square shaped mouth, deep-set eyes, long eyebrows wide ears, and a broad forehead he was known to be destined for greatness.  The first words he was said to have spoken  were,

 “my feet have wandered in the purple palace of the immortals, my name is recorded in the capital of the jade emperor.”

When he grew up he became a general and led his army against Tibet.  He was beaten in battle by the Tibetans and had to escape into the mountains.  He was found in the mountains by an old man who took him back to his spiritual sanctuary. The old man taught him alchemy and magical rituals and after three days of intensive teaching dismissed him telling him to go back into the world and use his powers to help people.  He left the sanctuary with a magical fan that could bring the dead back to life and turn stones into gold or silver and he used this to alleviate hunger and poverty wherever he found it.

There are two versions of how he finally achieved immortality.  The first tells how the frequent use of his magical powers and special fan to help people caused him to join the shimmering cloud and become immortal.   In the second he was meditating near a wall when it collapsed on top of him but behind the wall was a vessel of jade that bore him to the shimmering cloud to become one of the Immortals.

The Popularity of the Eight Immortals

Since ancient times the depiction of the Immortals in art has been popular with Chinese artists and the tradition was continued when Taoism flourished and they depicted the Immortals in their own style.  Perhaps their popularity was their association with prosperity and longevity but they were also the seen as the heroes of the general population who cured them of illness and disease, fought for them against oppression and taught them how to evolve spiritually to greater heights.

© 16/11/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright November 11, 2016 zteve t evans

 

 

Superstition Mountain Tales: Pale Faced Lightning

Superstition Mountain is a mountain in the Superstitions Mountains of Arizona, USA and a place of many myths and legends of the Native American and local people  One Native American legend tells how a tribe of Pueblo dwarfs settled in the area establishing settlements and growing crops and breeding flocks of animals.

scottobear_-_051231_sun_28by-sa29

Image by Scotto Bear – CC BY-SA 2.0

The Pueblo Dwarfs

They practiced their own religion in their own way which was based on the sun. Although these people were small in stature being only on average four feet tall, they were very intelligent and as is often the case with intelligent people, they were peace loving.  They were rumored to possess a great treasure beyond belief.

Being small in stature other tribes sometimes sought to rob and bully them.  The dwarves were not easy victims.  They had learned how to make strong potions and incantations that would usually frighten off their enemies without the need for bloodshed.  Once these were invoked all that was usually needed was a show of arms to discourage fighting.

One day they learned that their enemies were preparing a massive attack on them. Their chief had called together all the braves of his people and was leading them towards Superstition Mountain determined to wipe out the peace loving dwarfs and take all their flocks but what they really wanted was to steal their great treasure.

Pale-faced Woman

The dwarfs hid their flocks of sheep in hidden valleys and built walls and fortifications in strategic places that guarded the passes to their land and made plans for their self-defense.  All of these plans and works were supervised and directed by a woman who was not of their race but who had come among them from an unknown land.  This woman was tall, with golden hair and a pale face and she exuded an air of command.  Although she was not of their kind the Pueblo dwarfs held her in awe and reverence following her every word and treasuring her.

She was also known to their enemies.  They justified the attack by saying they had brought her from the waters of the rising sun and their chief had fallen in love with her and had wanted to marry her.  In their minds, they believed she should have seen this as a great honor and agreed to the marriage.  The fact was she did not love him and had refused marriage and fled rather than be taken by force.

She had wandered in the wilderness until she found the Pueblo dwarfs who had taken her in.  In return, she taught them how animal husbandry and how to plant seeds, build houses and she had healed many of their sick.  The dwarfs would have given their enemies all their flocks in exchange for her but she would not let them.  Instead, she told them she would stand and fight and urged them to escape.  The dwarfs refused to leave without her and told her they would defend her to the death so she devised a plan of defense.

Superstition Mountain

The dwarfs met the invaders on the borders but instead of fighting retreated across the land drawing them towards Superstition Mountain.  Their enemy followed thinking they were afraid that all the time they led them on to the mountain.  Eventually, the enemy reached Superstition Mountain and  the dwarfs took up the defensive positions they had prepared.  The enemy chief marshaled his braves on the lower slopes ready for all out attack.

On a nearby hill other tribes also gathered to watch the attack looking for an opportunity to take advantage of the situation whichever way the pending battle should fall.  They knew that while the battle was raging they had the opportunity to sneak behind the dwarfs and steal their flocks though what they really wanted was their treasure.  Whichever way the battle went they intended to rob the exhausted survivors. Like vultures waiting for the death of their victim, they bided their time.

The Attack

The invading chief gave the order for the attack to begin and wave after wave of braves ran up the slopes to attack the defensive walls of the Pueblo dwarfs. The Pueblo dwarfs stood ready behind their defenses. The walls had been built behind a pool of water and now the pale-faced woman stood tall and commanding like a queen in front of the pool calmly waiting for the enemy to arrive.  Her adopted people looked on in love and admiration ready to fight to the death for her.  As the enemy came up the slope they saw her standing proud and impassive and they were too were filled with admiration and desire.  They began shouting fiercely and threateningly and running towards her with outstretched arms.

Pale Faced Lightning

The pale-faced woman stood tall and erect and calmly watched their frenzied attack.  As they approached ready to take her she quickly stooped down, picked up a clay jar and emptied its contents into the pool and strode ran back behind the defensive walls to join the dwarfs.   As soon as she joined her people on the walls from the rocks and crevices all around there burst red hot sparks and tongues of fire that killed many of the attacking braves instantly. Lightning struck from the skies killing many others while other perished as they fell off the cliffs as they fled in their panic.

The pale-faced woman stood calmly and stately among her people and watched impassively as her enemies were routed without so much as an arrow being shot. From this day on she was known as Pale Faced Lightning.  The watchers in the nearby hills also looked on and were appalled and terror-stricken at what they saw.  The lust for treasure though will burn the hearts of the unworthy and a few years later they mustered the courage to attempt to attack the Pueblo dwarfs.  Pale Faced Lightning routed them as she had previously routed her enemies but with greater loss of life.  After that no foe dared to threaten the Pueblo dwarfs but just as they had arrived out of nowhere so they left taking their treasure with them.

Some say they their leader dreamed a dream of hordes of people moving out of the eastern lands into the west bring death and misery to the First Peoples.  Some say she led the Pueblo dwarfs to a secret place on Superstition Mountain where they live to this day in peace and happiness ruled over by their treasure, their Pale Faced Lightning.

© 27/09/2016 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright September 27th, 2016 zteve t evans

Australian Folklore: The Emu in the Sky

The Aboriginal people of Australia developed an astronomy where figures from their mythology were represented  by the dark patches, stars and other features of the night sky. These figures came from familiar animals and objects from their immediate environment that often had stories attached to them explaining their origin or function.

emu_public

In the night skies above Australia is the Southern Cross which has a dark patch or cloud next to it called the Coalsack Nebula.  This dark place is associated with the “Emu in the Sky” with the Coalsack representing the head and the body and legs formed by the dust trails that reach out across the Milky Way. Presented here is a brief description of Australian Aboriginal Astronomy followed by the folktale of The Blind Man and the Emu. Then follows  a look at the rock engraving of the Emu in the Sky and the celestial orientation in the night sky of the Emu before concluding with the importance of both of these to the Aboriginal people.

Australian Aboriginal Astronomy

In Australian Aboriginal astronomy, astronomical objects such as the sun, the moon, the stars, the planets and the Milky Way and their movements across the sky are often seen as being representative of objects, animals or aspects of the world they knew. They used these representations to help explain and give meaning to various things that in their minds needed explaining or in some cases as a calendar to keep track of the passing of time and the seasons. Quite often there are mythological or religious explanations given to celestial objects and phenomena and sometimes there are less profound associations given.  Different groups of Aboriginal people have different folktales featuring many different creatures such as stingrays, sharks and other fish, different kinds of birds and animals also different people groups such as men, women, boys, girls and hunters.

The Blind Man and the Emu

One Australian folktale tells of a blind man who lived in a camp in the bush.  He had a wife who lived with him and every day he would send his wife out to look for emu eggs for them to eat. His wife would dutifully oblige but no matter how hard she tried she could not please him. She would find the emu eggs and bring them back to him but he would complain they were too small and become angry with her.   One day she went out looking for emu eggs and came across the tracks of a very large emu.  Thinking that such a large bird would lay large eggs she followed the tracks and found it sitting on its nest on the ground.   Thinking the eggs would be large and would please her husband for a change, she became determined to get them and so she threw stones at the bird hoping to scare it off.  Instead the bird stood up and attacked her and killed her.

Meanwhile the blind man was becoming hungry waiting for his wife and he also began to worry about her.   Unable to see he began to feel his way cautiously around the camp until his hands felt a bush and feeling the branches he found some berries upon it.  Eating the berries he was suddenly cured of his blindness and picking up his spears he went out looking for his wife.  He found her tracks and followed them and found her body by the emu’s nest.  Realizing the emu had killed her he speared the emu and sent its spirit into the Milky Way.  There it remains to this day and can be seen at certain times of the year and became known as the Emu in the Sky.

Rock engravings of the Emu in the Sky

In the Kuringai National Park, north of Sidney the Guringai people who live there created rock engravings, some of these are depicting Daramulan the sky god and his emu-wife. One engraving at the Elvina Track Engraving Site depicts an emu similarly posed similarly as the Emu in the Sky constellation.  During  evenings in the autumn, which is March to May in Australia, the celestial emu in the sky is directly over the engraved emu in the sky depicted in the rock corresponding to the time when the emu lays its eggs and are traditionally collected by the Aborigines.

The Emu in the Sky

During March the head and neck of the Emu appears in night sky and from April to May the full length is revealed in the sky from south toward south east. During this time the Emu is said to have legs by the Kamilaroi and Euahlayi peoples and is seeming to be in a running pose.  This is said to be representative of the females who during the mating season run after the males.

During June and July the celestial emu appears to change its position with the disappearance of its legs and is said to be now male and sitting on its nest hatching the eggs.  It is the male emu on earth that incubates the eggs.  So the celestial Emu appears to reproduce the behavior of the earthly emu.

The Emu in the Sky is an example of how the Aboriginal Australians related to the natural world on earth and the heavens above them.  Their reliance and closeness to nature is seen in the use of the rock engraving that acts as a calendar reminding them of the important time of the year when the emu egg will be available to harvest.

© 08/06/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright June 8th, 2016 zteve t evans

Cherokee folktales: Awi Usdi, the Little Deer

white-tailed_deer

The Cherokee folktale of Awi Usdi, the Little Deer, is a story that is very relevant to most human societies all around the world today. The Native American Cherokee people of the Southeastern states of the USA lived close to nature and before the arrival of Europeans a balance was achieved that benefited man and nature. Many of their myths, legends and folktales reflect this and evolved to explain the natural world, their place in it and express their spirituality. Presented here is a version I have curated, edited and adapted of the Cherokee folktale of  Awi Usdi, the Little Deer, followed by a thought of where it all may end.

The folktale of Awi Usdi, the Little Deer

In the early days when the world was young humans and animals spoke together as friends and lived peacefully side by side in happiness.  Although humans needed to kill animals for food or to make clothing it was only done out of necessity.  An understanding existed between humans and animals and the animals knew humans had to do this, because some of them had to kill other animals to live.  The hunted accepted the hunter  and the hunter respected the hunted and nature was balanced.

Then humans invented bows and arrows and learnt how to use them to kill animals quickly and easily.   They began to kill animals with their bows and arrows not out of necessity but because they could and for the thrill it gave them and this tipped the balance of nature.  As time wore on more and more animals were being killed unnecessarily and the animals grew worried that they would soon be exterminated.  All of the different clans of animals held meetings in their different clans to discuss what could be done to stop this.

The Bear clan meets

The bears met in their clan and after much debated decided they should fight back.  The problem was they did not know how. One of the their great warriors pointed out that humans would simply shoot them with their bows and arrows before they got near enough to fight them.

Then Old Bear their chief said to defend themselves the bears must learn how to make and use bows and arrows to restore the balance to nature.  So the bears set to work and managed to make a powerful bow and some arrows to fire from it.  bear-907684_1280The problem was that that when they tried to use it their long claws got in the way.

One of the bear warriors said that he would cut his claws and then try.  So he cut his claws and he found he could use the bow very well and shoot with great accuracy.  Old Bear looked on and then told him that he was very good with the bow and arrow but then asked him to climb a tree.

The warrior bear tried but without his claws he could not get a hold on the trunk.  Old Bear shook his head in dismay and said that without claws they could not climb trees, could not dig for food and could not hunt.  He told them because of these problems they could not use the same weapons against humans that they used on animals so they could not fight back like that.

All of the other animal clans held similar meetings one after the other.  Many different ideas were suggested but none was found that could work. The conclusion was that the animals had no way of fighting back against the humans.

Awi Usdi, the Little Deer

The very last of the animals to meet was the Deer clan and their leader was Awi Usdi, the Little Deer.  When all the members of his clan were gathered he spoke and told them that he could only see one way.  He told them that here was nothing that could be done to stop humans hunting animals and told them that was the way of the world.  The wolf hunts rabbit because it is the natural law and there is a balance and respect.

Awi Usdi, the Little Deer then said, “Humans are breaking the natural laws.  They kill animals out of greed not because they need to eat or clothe themselves.  They no longer respect us or nature.  In this way all of the animals are in danger of being wiped out by human greed and ignorance.  They have altered the balance and no longer respect us.”

reindeer-1059773_1280

He then said, “I will visit the humans in their dreams and teach them what they must do.  First when they wish to kill a deer they must first prepare by holding a ceremony.  Secondly, they must ask permission to kill a deer. Thirdly, when they do kill a deer they must respect the spirit of the deer and ask it for pardon.”  

Then Awi Usdi, the Little Deer, told his clan that if humans did not obey these simple and fair rules he would work his magic on them crippling their limbs.  This would prevent them from using their bows and arrows and return the balance.

Awi Usdi, the Little Deer did as his word and went to the humans in the night and whispered into their ears teaching what they must do when hunting.  In the morning when they awoke the humans thought they had experienced a strange dream and many could not tell if it was real or not.

Some of the humans understood that Awi Usdi, the Little Deer had visited them and tried their hardest to follow and keep to what he had taught them.  They obeyed the natural laws and only hunted animals out necessity for food and clothing.  Just as they were told they prepared in a ceremonial way and asked for permission and pardon when a kill had to be made.

Sadly, there were still hunters that ignored what Awi Usdi, the Little Deer had taught and continued to kill animals when there was no need.  As he had promised Awi Usdi, the Little Deer visited them in the night and caused their limbs to become bent and crippled.  It was not too long before all humans began to treat animals with the respect they deserved and followed the teaching of Awi Usdi, the Little Deer.

This is why there are still animals in the wild today because  Awi Usdi, Little Deer taught the humans to show respect.  Because of Awi Usdi, the Little Deer, Cherokee people show respect. Even though humans and animals can no longer talk with each other respect must be given to the animals they hunt as Awi Usdi, the Little Deer taught  and the balance of nature maintained.

Where will it end?

But all this happened a long, long, time ago. Once again humans are inventing new and more powerful weapons and worse still have learnrt how to mechanise their killing of animals in numbers undreamed of in the past.  The natural balance has been lost and the sixth mass extinction has begun and no one knows where it will end. Perhaps if we listened to the teachings of Awi Usdi, Little Deer we may find it again, or perhaps it’s too late.  What do you think?

© 16/03/2016  zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright March 16th, 2016 zteve t evans

Atagâ’hï: The hidden lake of the Cherokees

smoky_mtn_view

Cherokee tradition

The Cherokee are a Native American people from the Southeastern United States of America.  They evolved a rich culture centuries before the first Europeans set foot in the New World.  Like any other ancient people they saw the world around them and strove to make sense of their place in the great scheme of things. Over time they evolved, mythology, legends, folktales and lore which explained how they see their place in the world, how the world works and much more besides.  Presented here is the Cherokee tradition of the hidden lake of  Atagâ’hï that is said to only be able to be experienced and seen after careful preparations and a suitable plane of spiritual development has been attained by an individual.  This is followed by a short folktale of how a young Cherokee brave and his little sister believed they found the hidden place and finally conclude.

Seeking Atagâ’hï

The hidden lake of Atagâ’hï is a special place that the Cherokee people believe lies in the wild lands of the Great Smoky Mountains that separate Tennessee from North Carolina, somewhere west of the birthplace of the Oconaluftee river.  Atagâ’hï which means Gall place is not an easy place for humans to find and some people think it does not exist at all. The Cherokees know that it exists even though few people are said to have ever seen.  Its location although  secret to humans is known to the animals who seek it out for healing when they are sick or wounded.

If by chance some wanderer in the wild ventures close to it, he, or she, may hear the sound of the wings of the multitude of wild ducks and birds that inhabit the hidden place and fly in the skies above the waters.  Should that wanderer then follow that sound they will not find a lake, but may find a dry flat plain of mud. No birds, animals, plants or any living thing, or even its beautiful waters will be seen by the wanderer.

Nevertheless, the Cherokee people will tell you that it is still there but to see it and experience it then it is necessary to heighten your own inner spiritual development. Then it is necessary to fast and pray to the spirits and then begin an all night vigil.  Only then when the person has attained the right enhanced state of being will the lake and its inhabitants be visible to them as the sun rises after the night of the vigil.

People make the mistake of thinking that because the lake is not seen then it does not exist or if they stumbled across a mudflat in the wilderness of the Great Smoky Mountains that it has dried up long ago.  It is not so. To see and experience the hidden lake of Atagâ’hï it is necessary to follow closely the procedure that has been given and then and only then can Atagâ’hï be seen and experienced.

clifftops4-7-07

The Great Smoky Mountains – Public Domain

After the appropriate procedures have been followed the magical lake will appear at  sunrise as a wide but shallow expanse of beautiful blue water fed by springs falling from high cliffs around it.  The waters are home to many kinds of wild fowl, fish and reptiles. In the skies above birds of all kinds fly overhead or swim upon its surface and animal tracks of all kinds led down to the water edge.  It it is known that animals such as bears know how to find Atagâ’hï and bathe in the waters which heal their wounds and cure their sickness. This is a sacred place for all creatures and that is the reason why the lake is kept from the view of most humans especially hunters.

A message from the sun

Of the many people who have sought Atagâ’hï only a few have ever found it.  Two of these may have been two Cherokee youngsters by the name of Utani and Netani.  Utani was the elder brother of Netani, who was his little sister.  He was a young Cherokee lad, tall and strong, who was approaching the age when he would be considered a brave and be expected to act like one. Utani had been given a new knife with a bright and shiny blade that was razor sharp and gleamed and glittered in the sunshine.

He was fascinated by his knife and the way the blade reflected the sun.  He placed it upon the ground in the sun and stood and admired the way it gleamed in the sunshine.  He was so absorbed in staring at the blade gleaming in the sunlight that he did not notice the approach of his sister, Netani.  Not until her body cut out the sunlight from the blade stopping it gleaming did he notice she was there.

Seeing the knife suddenly stop gleaming Utani looked up and saw it was because his sister was blocking the sun by where she was standing and her shadow was falling upon it “Please remove your shadow from my knife,” he said but Netani just staring at him at him with puzzled look on her face.  “Please move so that that your body does not stop the sun from shining on my knife!” he said.  Netani did not move so he said it again.

Although Netani did not understand why Utani was staring at the blade, because he was her elder brother she obeyed him and moved out of the way allowing the sun to shine upon the knife again. Then she asked him why he was so fascinated about the knife.  Realising she may think him foolish and because he was now approaching the age of when a Cherokee boy becomes a brave and he did not want to sound childish.  He told her that he was watching the blade of his knife because the sun was shining on it and was sending him a message.

Utani had not reckoned on his little sister’s natural curiosity. She was fascinated and begged to know what the message was.  Thinking to quiet her curiosity he told her that the sun was telling him the secret location of Atagâ’hï the hidden lake. Too late Utani realised he had gone too far with his childishness.  But, he was obstinate. He did not want to be seen to lose face by telling his little sister that he had made it all up and did not know the way to the hidden lake.  If he did he would have to admit  that he had not received a message from the sun from his knife.  Netani was intrigued by the thought of Atagâ’hï and begged him to take her there.

In search of Atagâ’hï

gsm100_1547

Great Smokey Mountains – By Terry White

Utani realised he was in a fix but thinking now he was almost a brave he must begin to act like one. So he decided, perhaps foolishly, that he would try and find the way to the hidden lake of Atagâ’hï. Picking up his knife he placed it in its sheath at his side and taking his sister by the hand began walking towards the high ridges of the Great Smoky Mountains.

With no clear idea of which way to go Utani led his sister along the trails that led up to the high ridges.  They walked for hours through the wild woods climbing higher and ever higher along remote trails that few trod.  They got further away from home than Utani had ever been before and he began to feel scared, but he did not want to show fear in case he frightening his sister who had always placed her trust in him.  They walked and walked and came across no sign of the lake and Netani now began to grow tired and lagged behind.  She called to Utani to wait for her and suggested they rest and then head home as she was beginning to feel very hungry.  She suggested they come back tomorrow and look when they would have more time.

Secretly, Utani was very pleased because he had no idea where he was going and with his sister suggesting it was time to go home he would not lose face and he was also feeling very hungry and tired.  Making out he was angry he agreed to turn round and go home, but as he took his sister’s hand to return down the trail he kicked a pebble which rolled across the trail to one side and down a bank and they heard a plop as it fell into water.

Atagâ’hï

Brother and sister looked at each other with surprise and then very quietly and carefully walked to the side of the trail which had thick branches and foliage growing along it. Pulling the foliage out of the way Utani and Netani found themselves looking down a bank that ran to the the edge of a beautiful blue lake that was hidden by trees and bushes.  All around  around the edges of the lake great cliffs rose and springs of crystal clear water bubbled down their face into the lake.  There were multitudes of ducks and other water fowl and many different kinds of birds.  The waters were filled with fish and their were reptiles in among them  Around the shore of the lake there were the footprints of many kinds of animals and they could see bears and deer, squirrels and many other kinds of animals.  They knew they had found the Atagâ’hï the hidden lake of their Cherokee people.

They looked about them and realised it was getting towards sundown so they agreed to return home and come back again in the morning to explore it further.  When they arrived home it was dark and their mother and father and the older braves of the village were worried and angry.  They wanted to know where they had been and Netani told them happily that the sun had sent a message to Utani’s knife blade telling him where to find Atagâ’hï and that was where they had been.  Their parents laughed and the older braves laughed.  Utani and Netani did not laugh. They knew they had found the hidden lake of Atagâ’hï and could find it again.  Now, for those who wander in the Great Smoky Mountains sometimes along the trail in the wilds you may come across a young Cherokee brave and his sister kicking pebbles down a bank on the side of the trail.

Drawing conclusions

So that is the tradition and folktale of Atagâ’hï of the Cherokee people.  For those interested in conclusions it would seem fitting that I  leave the reader to form their own ideas and draw their own conclusions from their own knowledge and experience.

What do you think?

© 09/03/2016  zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright March 9th, 2016 zteve t evans

 

 

Chilote folklore: The ghost ship called El Caleuche

The Chiloé Archipelago is situated off the coast of Chile and the people who live on these islands are isolated from the mainland and are forced by circumstances to be independent and self-sufficient.  Their island society evolved and developed around the natural resources of their environment and being island folk  the sea is a big part of their lives.  

They evolved their own ways of explaining the world which grew into their own unique mythology and folklore and many of the stories revolve around the sea.  One of those stories tells how the sea is kept clear of the dead bodies of those who are drowned at sea who must sail for eternity on a ghostly ship the Chilote islanders call El Caleuche.

El Caleuche

This strange phantom ship is believed to be a living being that is always awake and on its guard against unwanted intruders.  It appears as a shining white ship  with  three masts  that carry five sails.  Read more