11/12/12

The Age of Myth – Chapter Two

The Great Rift Valley of Africa runs 5,600km (3,500miles), from the Red Sea and Ethiopia in the north, south to Lake Victoria where it splits off, and from Uganda continues south as far down as present day Mozambique. The Great Rift is where two plates of the earth’s crust are separating and is also where our human ancestry seems to have begun.

The earliest traces of man have been found in the valleys of Lake Turkana in Kenya and the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, between Mount Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti Plain. The Olduvai Gorge itself is a 30-mile long gash in Tanzania’s Serengeti Plain. The area is considered the primary host of all other cultures. Why this is so will be explained as we go.

Evidence of the earliest Humanoids has been found and dated from 4 to 1.6 million years ago in Tanzania, 700,000 years ago in Java, and 420,000 years ago in China. From sites found in the Olduvai Gorge in Africa and elsewhere, these early peoples favoured lakeside camps, rock overhangs and caves for protection from predators and the weather. Their camps were most always near water availability, like rivers and lakes, and close to herds of game and vegetable foods. They would stay in each camp for a few days or weeks before moving on to better land. Many of these sites also contain bones of smaller animals, species less powerful than these early humanoids.

Hunting seems to have been more running down and grappling their quarry to the ground, with scavenging the more important means of getting food, with their weapons most often being made out of wood. These early humanoids were opportunistic hunters, picking over carcasses from predator kills and gathering wild vegetables. At the time, the larger animals were kept at a distance and avoided, for they were not afraid of man yet, indeed to many of the larger predators, early man was inconsequential and often the prey.

These early humans were bipedal, had an upright posture, a high vertical forehead and rounded skull, were about 1.5m tall, and became the species, Homo erectus. For when earlier species had first moved out of the trees and the forests and onto the grasslands they had begun to walk upright, to see over the grass. By about two million years ago, Homo erectus had spread out over Africa, Asia and Europe, with their descendants thought to be the first humans to use fire.

From watching fellow creatures they would eventually develop memory and foresight, and by mimicking the behaviour of the other living things around them they would assimilate such things as trapping; from the spider, basketry; from birds, burrowing from rabbits, dam building from the beaver and the art of poisons from snakes. These early peoples did not think themselves as being different from the rest of the animal world. With no language, they grunted and squawked like everyone else. From copying the other creature’s diets, mostly fruits and vegetables, to watching how they would get their food and how they would store it, they became very adept at exploring their surroundings and keeping a memory of which plants, insects and small animals one could eat and which ones were to be avoided. Their reality was a world of animal, vegetable and human spirits interacting with each other. They could not tell the difference between material and immaterial, imaginary or real, animate or inanimate. With no idea of self, there was little difference of skills, and having no idea about the concept of surplus there wasn’t much difference in status distinction between each other. The sensations that bombarded them daily needed an immediate response, so life was lived very much in the moment with not much thought about past or future. One’s life was determined by one’s actions to what was happening at that moment, at that time.

Because of their intimate connection with the earth, they expressed great care for its well being, for they believed that they were simply one part of the earth’s body and did not distinguish themselves from everything less in nature, thus they did not possess the sense of self, only the concept of their groups survival. Their culture consisted of a father, mother, siblings and extended family members, perhaps a dozen individuals, whose only concern was each day’s survival as a group.

Everything in nature represented a spirit or demon, depending on whether looked at as friend or foe, with animals and trees considered human but simply in another form. And because they did not see themselves as finite mortal beings they did not believe that people died, but rather they went to sleep and their spirit entered a netherworld and/or parallel existence. As to birth they also had no idea, they did not make the connection that sex had anything to do with the birth of a child, instead believing a spirit would enter a female’s body and then be brought forth, with a baby thought of as being half spirit and half human, who remained in contact with the world it came from until which time it grew up and then, sometimes over years, would have to pass through various rites of passage to become a part of the community. Because having too many babies would prove to be a hindrance to the tribe’s survival of having to be always on the move, a woman could only carry one child at a time and until that child could keep up on its own to have another was no doubt forbidden. Biology took care of this issue; women would breast feed their child for two full years, thus enabling suckling to be the contraceptive technique that it is, by repressing the menstrual cycle. The average reproductive cycle of most of the women, over an average life span of about thirty years, was perhaps 10-15 children, though of course we do not know an actual fertility rate.

The evolution of all species is all about natural selection, with many similarities in all living things. For example, creatures known as vertebrates – having a backbone – all share the five digits, skeletal structure of a hand. This appears not only in humans but also in apes, raccoons, cats, bats, porpoise, whales, lizards, turtles and a plethora of other creatures. Dolphins are able, as we are, to call each other by name. At the same time it is curious why many male mammals, including humans, have nipples. All animals share the same basic bodily functions and feelings, such as pleasure, pain, breathing, eating, drinking, defecating, sleeping, the drives to find a mate and procreate, birth, and death. For humans especially, history has followed different courses for different peoples because of different environments, not because of any biological differences between the peoples themselves.

The fact of the matter is, all humans have the same facial grammar; everyone smiles the same, frown the same, uses the eyes to convey cognition or flirtatiousness the same. A laugh is a laugh, anywhere on the planet and when one is angry, everyone knows they are. Don’t you find that human beings are very good looking people when they smile, and so disgustingly ugly when angry? But it’s much more than that, for instance, when people smile, the mouth doesn’t convey the whole truth. A true smile appears in the eyes and it’s no wonder the majority of a human’s muscles are in our faces, which seems to prove how important expression is in inter-personal communication. Then there is the tilt of the head, arch of the eyebrow or where the eyes are looking when communicating that further convey what one is thinking and trying to say or feel. Without eye contact we never truly know what someone is saying because we are not getting the whole story. The eyes are truly the windows into our soul. Even people that don’t understand what each other are saying can look at each other and communicate more than words could possibly describe. In Donald E. Brown’s excellent “Human Universals” he finds that there are about 400 specific behaviours that are invariant among all humans, with the facial expressions of basic emotions truly universal, and shared by many other animals besides humans, whether it is anger, happiness, sadness, disgust, fear, surprise or contempt.

About 150,000 years ago the evolutionary pace quickened when our skull and its contents evolved to the point where we became able to plan more for specific projects or definite purposes. At about the same time the development of speech and a symbolic system of language began, which allowed future cultures a much quicker way to share ideas that enabled them to cope with their environment. As language became more complex it allowed the ability to remember, transmit, and exchange information much more quickly and it allowed for such knowledge to be passed on through the ages, where myths through oral traditions would form, though it would not be until 50,000 years ago that language and culture would really begin to change who we were and who we would become.

Language would eventually give us the ability to create worlds of memories and life histories, and unfortunately, it would make us self-conscious. Before language we could only live in the moment and react to the shifting patterns of our environment, but language brought us the awareness of oneself, in terms of what others expect; humans who sense they are being evaluated and perhaps sensing a negative attitude towards themselves become self-conscious. While being conscious is being aware of oneself and subjectively experiencing each moment and having memory control; where we can think of something and then replay it in our head to examine what we had just thought. Yet we cannot both, think of something and also be self-consciously aware of what we are thinking. Conscious experiences also include inner feelings and thoughts as well as being aware of self and others. Other animals are simply conscious and not self-conscious at all. Yes they are highly intelligent and very aware of the world around them, but they do not look inward and observe the process of consciousness at work. They are not self aware, nor have imaginations, independent will or a conscience, because they are programmed by instinct, genetics and/or training.

There are many views on the origin of language. While it is true that all animals communicate in some way, human language would eventually become associated with the human way of using symbols and speech, while human nature is thinking, feeling and acting, which all humans have in common. Some views state that language is an extension of speech, which all humans have within themselves, with reason the most primary characteristic of human nature. Some believe language developed first, before reason, perhaps explaining many of the negative aspects of human communication. Others believe language and reason co-evolved. While still others believe that reason was developed out of the need for more complex communication, when more sophisticated social structures came about by the gains made by language and/or reason. It is surmised that more sophisticated human behaviour and basic speech both appeared about 164,000 years ago in southeast Africa, beginning with grunts and clicks, with language then evolving at a pace with cultural growth.

Speech evolved from non-verbal mood vocalization signals such as a cry of pain, a scream or a laugh. Other nonverbal forms include the expression of silence, hugging, touching and looking into someone’s eyes. Non-verbal communication is all about tone. While the tone of one’s voice is how the earliest humans signalled one another, speech brought cooperative exchange of information and allowed early humans to refer to objects in their environment. Non-verbal vocalization signals are still very important to us in being able to communicate; in fact they are everything, no matter what the media technology toys of our age tells us. When we cry out in pain, anyone listening can usually tell how severe it is; though with speech we now also add a few choice words along with the cry of pain, adding expression to the experience. Tone of voice is also the reason one can travel to another land and not knowing the language of that part of the world, can still get a reaction and communicate with other animals, even pets, which live there.

The evolution of speech was also connected to the development of the human vocal tract; it’s development allowed a far larger range of sound and the ability to speak more quickly. Our speaking rate has always been connected to the brain, which needs the body to take a breath about every five seconds. The earliest humans that began to speak could say maybe four to five words in five seconds. Today we can get off twenty to thirty-five words in five seconds, in fact a typical human today has a speaking rate of more than two hundred words a minute; three girlfriends chatting could raise this rate exponentially.

Language and speech would alter our brains. In order to operate, the brain needs to understand the inside world of the body and a view of the world outside, to act intelligently and make decisions. Before speech and language the brain relied on the senses. The sense organs would see, feel, hear, and taste to build a consciously experienced picture of the outside world. Sensations such as hunger, pain, and thirst told the brain what it should do to satisfy the demands of the body and because early humans operated on mostly instinct and intuition, the brain allowed rich areas of knowledge to surface in the conscious plane, which early humans would envision, and then do the images that were presented.

Among all animal species we are the only ones who tell stories. Living by the narrative in our communication is important to us because by listening to each other’s stories we are given to needing each other’s companionship and inclined to intimacy, affection, relationships and sociability. Language and speech would indeed change the way we lived and how we were to evolve socially, but at the same time it was when, ever so slowly, we would begin to lose focus on the present moment.

An animal’s mind operates by perception, recognition, simple thought association and environment, and is led by being aware of the moment, much like early humanoids but with language the human mind began operating not only by perception but also with memory, imagination, and more complex habits of thought such as inner-driven attention and self awareness. As humans we are responsible for our own lives, with our behaviour a function of our decisions, not our conditions. The traits of behaviour which sets humans apart from other animals’ starts with self awareness and the ability to think about our thought process, and possessing an imagination, where in our minds we can create other realities. We also have independent will; the ability to act based on our self awareness, and finally we have a conscience, an inner awareness of right or wrong, which we gain from internalizing the moral standards of behaviour of the social group we live in.

Meanwhile, the original groups of perhaps a dozen humans eventually became nomadic bands, basically large family groups of about 25-30 people. Living as hunters, gatherers and foragers, each group would need about 250 square miles (400 sq. km) to support itself. A small band would only have to travel a few miles every couple of weeks, or maybe led by the full moon, move to a new campsite about every four weeks. Most of their travels were just moving back and forth to familiar areas according to the season. In fact for over 95% of our human existence we have lived this way, as foragers and on occasion, hunters. We lived off of what the earth gave us, within daily and annual routines that matched the rhythms of the changing seasons and progressions of each day. Time would be measured only by the sun, the seasons, and the generations.

Most of these early hunters and gatherers diet was made up of nuts, fruits, edible roots, shellfish, insects and eggs, and were dependant on knowing which ones could be eaten and where to find them. To survive they had to depend on their intelligence and knowledge of the land and nature. When available, meat was a welcome addition to their diet whether by spearing big game, snaring small animals, scavenging carcasses left by bigger predators or from fishing. At first they would have had an easy time living off the land; most groups would have been able to gather the food they needed that day in only a few hours.

Beginning with simple wooden clubs, hunting and tool kit technologies would develop further when small game could not sustain the growing populations. These advancements in technologies allowed early humans to go after bigger game. Like the earliest tools, they were still often made from stone, but now would become finer and lighter, with the sharp flakes, broken and chipped from stone, and being used not only for hunting but also for cutting and sawing. As far as hunting, early man found that they could literally walk up to many of the larger animals, for they were not afraid of man. Though during the first million years of our evolvement, early humans were nowhere near being the predator they would one day become. It would take thousands of generations for the larger animals to develop the sense to run or attack when they see or sense a human. As early humans found ever more lethal ways to kill, scavenging was less needed and with the advancement of their tool technologies they were able to start processing the meat and using more of the carcasses such as the skin and bones, to further their advancement along even more and ensure their survival.

Instead of being centred on and preoccupied with oneself and the gratification of one’s own egotistical desires, early humans were more altruistic, where they were unselfishly concerned for and devoted to the welfare of their family. The group needed to be organized and work as a group; even in the pairing up of certain men and women into stable and perhaps loving couples for the better survivability of the child. But then most all animals possess this trait, where the behaviour of an animal, though it might not be exactly to its advantage and perhaps is life-threatening, benefits others of its kind, most often its family. While making up simple tools took a great deal of thought, testing and refinement and was a turning point for human’s evolvement, learning how to get along with our fellow human beings would prove more difficult.

With language and speech, the human ego began to develop and time began to take over our lives. Our thoughts eventually became only concerned with the past and the future. We would begin to rely on our past for our identity and sense of self, while we looked to the future for our fulfilment. This state of consciousness brought forth fear, anxiety, expectation, regret, guilt, and anger into our lives, while our cultures and environments would form whom we have become today, shaped personalities, with our brains filled with a continuous stream of thought. But we should not get too far ahead of ourselves.

Early humans were formed from interaction between only a few people, mostly all family members, the surrounding environment, and their unconscious mind; where the mental phenomena of feelings, perceptions, intuitions, thoughts, habits, and desires, exist. Being an exploratory species by nature, as their populations grew and enough room to forage became intruded upon they would have to move more often, with generation upon generation slowly making their way farther out of Africa.

By about 400,000 years ago, Homo erectus had been joined by another species of humanoid, Homo neanderthalensis and between them had spread throughout Africa, Asia and Europe. Around this time another species would also evolve and enter the mix, Archaic Homo sapiens. Then about 170,000 years ago, anatomically modern humans, Homo sapiens sapiens would arrive on the scene.

First appearing in Ethiopia, these more modern humans slowly replaced all the other populations, while language, speech and more sophisticated human behaviour began to appear, and evolution, brain size and myth would take another slow step forward, though self awareness, lives filled with an almost constant state of mental distraction, and such things as an ego, were still thousands of years away.

 

 

 

 

07/26/11

Some Creation Stories Part 2

Part 2 of 3

India –  Greece –  Aztec – Norse – Haida – Iroquois Federation.

India

As with other ancient civilizations, India had many creation stories. One story tells that creation was the result of a ritual sacrifice involving the god, Purusha.

In the beginning there was one massive deity, called Purusha, who had 1,000 heads, 1,000 eyes, and 1,000 feet. Then came a time when gods and sages emerged from his body. They held down their creator and carried out a fire sacrifice upon him. Throwing butter into the flames became the season, spring. Then oil was thrown in and summer appeared. The sacrifice itself would become autumn. After the fire was out, the gods and sages sifted through the ashes and found large amounts of clear butter, which they used in rituals to create the birds and animals, as well as creating the sacred hymns, mantras, and formulas later used by priests. Next, the gods and sages cut Purusha into pieces, creating the earth from his feet, the air from his navel, the sky from his head and the sun from his eyes. His breath became the wind god Vayu. His mouth became the thunder and sky god, Indra, and Agni, Lord of Fire. His soul became the moon. The myths also tell that a part of Purusha’s sacrifice was to create the Indian caste system, where one follows their allotted path in life. In this story his mouth represents the Brahmins (priests), his arms Kshatriyas (warriors and kings), his legs Vaishyas (traders and farmers) and his feet, Shudras (labourers and artisans).

Another account of creation has that the universe had always existed in a mysterious way as the soul and spirit of  Purusha. But it took form only when Purusha became self-conscious and declared “I am.” It is when he discovers his deepest inner self and at the same time understanding the whole of creation. He forms into the shape of a man. At first he feels loneliness as he looks around and sees no one else. Then fear, but realizes there was nothing, no other humans or animals to be afraid of. So out of his loneliness he created a woman. At first they were very happy together and produced the first humans. But then one day his wife became conscious of the fact that their love was just not right, since her husband was also her father, she took off running. As she ran, she became a cow, but Purusha, chasing her now, became a bull and when he caught up to her and mounted her, the first cattle were made. The wife broke away again and fled as fast as she could go, becoming a horse. But the ever persistent  Purusha transformed himself into a swift stallion and quickly caught up to her and fathered the first horses. The wife kept breaking free and running away but was caught each time. They created the first donkeys, the first goats, the sheep and all forms of animal life, even the insects, by the time they were done. After some time Purusha knew he was the whole creation, for looking around he saw that he had created everything and his final act was creating fire, then the gods. Purusha is also identified with Atman(the individually deepest inner self) and Brahman(the divine consciousness).

The Taittiriya Brahmana creation myth, tells of an act of self-sacrifice by the first being and describes that in the beginning the only thing that existed was a universal mind (manas). It had come into being by having such a desire to exist that it produced smoke and flames, which condensed to create a vast ocean. From this ocean emerged Prajapati, the lord of all creatures. At first he was in the form of a magical formula that the future priests (brahmins) would use in worship. Consciousness hurt Prajapati though, and he became depressed, not understanding why he had come into being. As he wept, the tears that fell from his eyes became the earth. The tears he would wipe away upwards became the heavens. He then created demons (asuras) and soon after sacrificed his body to make the darkness of night. Prajapati came back to life and created men and women to populate the earth, and then once again he sacrifices his body and creates the glow of the moon. And then, for the third time, his body returns and he goes about creating the seasons and then sacrifices himself once more, to make the twilight. For a fourth time he is reborn and he makes the gods, then with finality, sacrifices his body to create the light of day.

In one version of Indian creation, the divine consciousness experienced a powerful desire to create living things, so water was created and upon these waters he cast his seed. From the seed came a golden egg that shone as bright as the sun and contained Brahma. The egg floated on the water for a year until Brahmas’ divine powers split it open. He then used the two halves to create the sky and earth, then he created the gods, the plants and all the creatures to fill the earth.

Much like other creation stories the world over, the Brahma myth also explains that the universe moves through cycles. In this case they are very long cycles of time indeed. One day of Brahma’s life was equivalent to 8.64 billion years on Earth. In the morning he created the universe, then in the evening after 4.32 billion years of life on Earth, he allowed order to collapse and chaos reigned supreme. That night he slept for 4.32 billion Earth years. At dawn the next day creation began once again with a new day (kalpa). Any beings who had not achieved moksha (liberation from rebirth) were brought back into being, according to what virtues they had attained in their previous lives. Each day of Brahma was split into one thousand great ages, and with each passing age the spiritual quality of life would gradually decline. The first age was the Kritayuga, which lasted 1,728,000 years. It was an age where everyone was wise, and was enlightened as to the true nature of reality. Because no one was concerned with the worldly, materialistic elements of life, nobody worked. There was a total lack of fear and hatred among the people, with no religious rites or ceremony, no egotism or disease.

The next age was the Tretayuga, which lasted 1,296,000 years. Morality and virtue declined by one-quarter. The people began to lose their belief of being in union with the universal soul, and started to partake in sacrifice and the numerous rites of religious life. People became jealous of each other, and conflicts arose.

Dvaparayuga was the third age, when human morality dropped by one-half. It lasted 864,000 years. It was an age of human misery and the advent of disease. The people were only concerned with selfish desire. Though there still were a few people who tried to live honest lives. The Kaliyuga, lasting 432,000 years, is the current age of the world. Virtue has fallen by three-quarters. The rulers of the people no longer follow their dharma, (path of duty) but instead now rule by force. It is an age where there are many natural catastrophes with the majority of the human population living in cities. When this age ends it is said Vishnu, the preserver of the universe, will appear on a white horse, and with a flaming sword in hand will usher in the destruction of the universe. This destruction is in no way a punishment of humanity, but simply an extension of the proper and divine cycle of time, with both creation and disintegration being parts of one vast cycle.

After the initial and many different versions of the creation of the universe, there came to be an incredible number of gods and goddesses. Each could have many forms, often with totally different natures. The people themselves believed that the material world was sustained by a unifying divine energy.

The ancient Indian priests created all these sacrificed-based creation myths to consolidate their social position, by claiming that the sacrifices re-enacted the primal moments of creation and so sustained the order of the universe. The people were taught to turn to their fabricated myths and believe in them, for they contained profound insights into human capacities, duties and the right way to live, and that life itself was created and sustained by sacrifice (Yajna), of both self and ritual. The priests preached to the people to give up selfish desires in worship and learn to meditate, as well as understand and accept that it was everyone’s dharma (duty) to follow one’s allotted path in life, according to his caste. One of the most important aspects of Indian thought that came out of their many creation myths, and which would prove to be a huge step forward for their peoples, was the punishment and reward system. A simple belief that every action had its consequence. It would become known as Karma. Absolute accountability.

The Greeks

Much like other creation stories, the Greeks believed that in the beginning there was only chaos. Their version has the Earth arriving first, out of the chaos, followed by Eros, and then Tartaros, the lowest part of the underworld. The sun god, Helios, appeared and then Earth gave birth to Heaven (Ouranos). Together they gave birth to the twelve “Titans,” as well as Ocean, the one-eyed Cyclopes, and the hundred-handed monsters, Kottos, Briareos, and Gyges. Heaven though, did not like his children very much and hid them all away. Then a day came when, just as Earth had finished making a flint sickle, the youngest of the Titans, Kronos “the crooked-planning,” reached out and grabbed it. He then proceeded to castrate his father, Heaven, with it. The blood that flowed fell on Earth, which resulted in the birth of the Giants and the Furies, while the severed genitals produced Aphrodite, who would become the goddess of love and fertility and have power over all living things and even over the other gods.

Kronos continued his rampage and overwhelmed with lust slept with his Titan sister Rheia, who bore him Hestia, Dementer, Hera, Hades, and Poseidon. Soon after the births, Kronos became paranoid and very jealous of his position as the king of the gods and swallowed each child in turn. Rheia was pregnant at the time, with her sixth child, and was afraid this baby would be swallowed too, so she went to her mother, Earth, and begged for assistance. When the baby was born, he was named Zeus and then quickly taken away by Earth, who hid him until his adulthood. After which, Zeus came out from hiding, overthrew his father and forced him to vomit up his five swallowed brothers and sisters.

Living atop Mount Olympos, Zeus and his siblings faced off against Kronos and his Titan brothers, and so began the ten-year battle of the Titanomachy, “the Battle of the Titans.” When it was over, Zeus and the Olympians were victorious. They gathered up the Titans and imprisoned them in Tartaros, the deepest pit of the underworld, forever.

Zeus’ brother Hades, also known as Pluto “the wealthy”, because of the wealth of the natural resources within the earth, would become the god of the underworld and marry Persephone. Besides Tartaros, the underworld was a cold, damp, and sunless place. Five rivers ran through it, the Styx, “the hateful,” the Acheron, “the river of woe,” Kokytos, “river of wailing,” Phlegethon, “river of flame,” and the Lethe, “river of forgetfulness.”

Another brother of Zeus, Poseidon became the lord of the seas, and the god of earthquakes. He was associated with Neptunus, god of water. Together, Poseidon and his wife Amphitrite, bore all the creatures that lived in the sea.

Zeus himself, received power over the heavens and became the true king of the gods. While many challenged Zeus for his authority and power, including the youngest son of Earth, the monster Typhon, he was able to overcome them all and as he did so, would banish them to Tartaros. The Olympians would have many years of peace before being challenged by the Giants. And in the final battle of the Gigantomachy (war against the giants), with the warrior-hero Herakles at their side, the Olympians would triumph over the forces of Chaos. With Zeus now supreme god of Olympos the lives of the gods became relatively peaceful. They both prospered and multiplied.

As for Zeus’ sisters; Hestia would become the noblest of the goddesses, representing the hearth, placing the fireside as the center of family life. She was a virgin goddess and held much respect. Eventually she would become worshipped in every household. Dementer would marry her brother Zeus and become the goddess of grain. Hera would also wed Zeus and become his official consort. They would have three children together; Ares (god of war), Eileithyia (goddess of childbirth), and Hebe (god of youth).

Though Zeus was “father of gods and men,” he also had many other roles and was worshipped for his concern for strangers and the poor. He ruled over the marketplace and public gatherings, believed in fair commerce and protected individual households. Besides his many admirable attributes, he was the strongest of the gods, and also very much a womanizer and known for his extreme sexual prowess, which drove his number one wife and sister, Hera, crazy. Throughout their lives, Hera would gain the reputation for being a very vengeful queen and a constant thorn in Zeus side.

One of Zeus’ sons that he had with the mortal woman, Semele, so angered Hera that she sent the Titans to kill this child and eat its body. The child was Dionysus, and his body was torn apart, his flesh eaten. However either, Hestia, Rhea, or Dementer saves his heart and from it Dionysus is reborn. He is then hidden away, some said disguised as a girl, until he becomes an adult and becomes known as the god that was “twice-born,” and becomes one of the Olympians and the god of wine, theatre, music, intoxication, mystery, and inspirer of ritual madness and ecstasy.

Zeus took many wives besides Dementer and Hera, including Metis, the goddess of the mind, who would give birth to Athene (wisdom), “the farseeing one,” Athene was a warrior-goddess, who held much power for also being a virgin goddess, she began to civilize cloth making, metalwork, carpentry, invented the chariot, the bridle, the first ship and built the Trojan Horse. She became the patron to the heroes, Odysseus, Herakles, and Theseus, with the great city of Athens being named after her, as would, the great temple, the Parthenon, which was built to celebrate her status as a virgin and a goddess. Zeus’ wives also included Themis, mother of the seasons and fates; the sea-nymph, Eurynome, mother of the graces; Mnemosyne, mother of meditation and memory, and the goddess Leti, who would give birth to the twins Apollo and Artemis. Apollo became the god of prophecy, purification, and music. He was also the “guardian of flocks” and also known as Phoibos, the “bright and radiant one.” Apollo was associated with the sun, while his sister, Artemis, was associated with the moon, as was the goddess Selene. Artemis was most well  known as the virgin goddess of hunting, and was “the protector of all wild things,” as well as the protector of the young.

Between the feasts and orgies, the gods finally found the time to create humans. The first people created were a golden race, and they lived their lives as though in a garden of Eden. Earth provided everything they would ever need. After this golden era, the gods created a silver race of humans. These humans were rather ignorant and did not worship the gods, so Zeus soon replaced them with a bronze humanity, but these people were so violent and psychotic that they eventually destroyed themselves. The fourth race of humans did not become associated with a metal, instead Zeus created the Heroes, a race of mixed, divine and mortal parentage, a righteous and noble race of hero-men who became the predecessors of the gods on the earth. After the Heroes, the current race of mankind, iron, began. And hence forth one divinity or another, whether the major Olympian gods and goddesses or a host of minor deities including nymphs, river gods and groups of semi-divine heroes and heroines, ruled over every facet of human life.

Unlike the gods of creation of other ancient civilizations, those of the Greeks were all in human form and were all immortals. There is no universally accepted religious text or creed among the Greek creation stories, but oddly, from Greece’s beginnings in about 900BC until their demise in 312A.D. most elements of their rituals never changed. In Greek ritual and belief the importance was on the present moment, the here-and-now rather than the afterlife. This defines the most prominent features of ancient Greek civilization, awareness and the constant yearning to understand all things.

The Aztec  

For the Aztecs, creation is a continuing story, based on the belief that the world goes through cycles, where the gods have destroyed and remade the world many times. Each cycle is known as a world age and is named after the day in which it ends. The first world was known as the “Jaguar Sun”(Nahui Ocelotl) because according to the Aztec calenders, it ended on the day Four Jaguar in the year One Reed. There are a few different versions of their creation, due to influence of earlier myths, and much earlier cultures.

The central story line to many of the Aztec creation myths, is that in the first days of the first world age, the divine primal couple, Ometecuhtli and Omecihuatl, who were twins, male and female, and were the children of the one supreme god and lord of duality, Ometeotl. They would give birth to Black Tezcatlipoca, who became the sun. He was one of four Tezcatlipocas to be born, all distinguished by a colour and each representing a world age, as well as a region of the universe. Much like the Inca legend, the Aztecs believed the universe consisted of a flat earth, which lay beneath thirteen layers of heaven, with nine layers below, which was the underworld, though the Aztecs also pictured their world as a flower with four petals fanning out in four directions.

Black Tezcatlipoca represented the north, with his job being to create the gods, the world, and the first humans. He would later also become known as the god of destiny and darkness, Tezcatlipoca.  His era would become associated with the element of earth. As a god he would become associated with darkness, hurricanes, deception, strife, confrontation and immoral conduct.

The first to inhabit the earth was a race of giants, who lumbered around pulling trees out of the ground and hurling them into the sky, surviving on a steady diet of pine nuts. This went on for 676 years until Tezcatlipoca’s brother, White Tezcatlipoca, also known as Quetzalcoatl, grew extremely jealous of the brilliance of the sky that  Tezcatlipoca had created, and in a rage, pushed his brother out of the sky and into the seas at the far end of the earth. Tezcatlipoca did not go quietly into the night though, anger consumed him and he turned himself into an avenging jaguar, and quickly returned, killing and eating all the giants, before throwing himself into the night sky to forever become the constellation, Ursa Major (the Great Bear).

Quetzalcoatl began creation anew by becoming the great sun god in the form of the wind god Ehecatl. He represented the western region and this second age of the world would become associated with the element of air. The people that were created lived a simple life, their diet the seeds of the mesquite tree. This age would be known as the Wind Sun (Nahui Ehecatl) and lasted 364 years, ending on the day of Four Wind in the year One Flint. A time when Tezcatlipoca returned as the storm and wind god, and using hurricanes, drove the sun, his brother, from the sky and chased the survivors of the Aztec predecessors into the surrounding jungles, where he transformed them into monkeys, and forced them to live deep in the deep forest in an age of darkness. Blue Tezcatlipoca, the rain god Tlaloc, also known as Huitzilpochtli, was a great sun and war god and would begin the third age by rising into the sky as a new sun and with his warmth and light, created a new race of people. The realm of this third age was representative of the south, the element of fire, and lasted 312 years. Besides bringing gentle rains for crops to grow, Tlaloc also had the power to bring deluges that would crush the harvests. He would become the most feared and respected, of a great number of fertility gods that would appear. Indeed most all religious sacrifices that would one day come about would be concerned with, above all else, the fertility of the earth. The earliest of the Aztec priests believed to maintain the flow of energy behind the rising of the sun, and to bring forth rain clouds to germinate the seed of the earth to grow into crops, sacrifice to the gods was extremely important.  Tlaloc would take a wife, Xochiquetzal, the goddess of flowers, fine arts, and dancing. But one day she would touch the blossom of a flowering tree, that the supreme god, Ometeotl, had proclaimed forbidden to touch. She was banished from heaven and became known as Ixnextli, condemned to wander the earth the rest of her days. The people of this third age, which were known as the Rain Sun (Nahui Quihuitl), were the earliest farmers, as well, successful hunters and gatherers. They both thrived and multiplied.  But on the day of “ Four Rain in the year One Flint,” Quetzalcoatl appeared once more and once again, destroyed creation, by sending a fiery storm of ash across the world. The force of which swept the sun from the sky and plunged the world, once again, into darkness. The firestorm was devastating, and burned up much of the earth, including the people who lived upon it. Any survivors that Quetzalcoatl found, he transformed them into butterflies, dogs, and turkeys.

The fourth age was associated with water and was ruled by the goddess of rivers, lakes, and oceans, Chalchiuhtlicue, who was personified with the east and the color red. In some Aztec myths this era was ruled by the Red Tezcatlipoca (Xipe Totec), the lord of germination. This age was known as Water Sun (Nahui Atl) and lasted for 676 years. The people that were created lived off the land and were very primitive. But this era would go the way of the previous eras, though this time the destruction was carried out by Chalchiuhtlicue herself. She swept away her creation in a great flood, with the people transformed into fish and sea creatures. This world ended on day, Four Water in the year One House.

After the destruction of the fourth world age the gods agreed to meet in the sacred city of  Teotihuacan.  The gods’ Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl decided to put their differences aside and work together on the new creation, alongside the other gods who had grown in number over the years. As a team and in the form of two powerful snakes they first attacked the earth monster, Tlatecuhtli, and tore her in two, throwing one half upward to make the sky and laying the other down to form the earth. The other gods began to lend their powers to the creation and used the earthly portion of the monster as their raw material. From its eyes, formed sacred springs and caves, with pools of light. From Tlatecuhtli’s mouth flowed the many rivers, from her hair and skin came edible plants, trees and flowers of all kinds, with mountains and valleys forming from her nose. Because the previous sun had been destroyed at the end of the last world age the gods Tecuciztecatl and Nanahuatzin volunteered to act as the sun, and after going through rites of penitence and self-denial, they sacrificed themselves by leaping into the flames of a huge sacrificial pyre. A new sun was formed, but it had a problem, where, though it shone brightly, it did not move from its zenith in the sky; the same thing with the moon. Understanding the importance of the movement of both the sun and the moon so that time could progress, the gods tore out their own hearts and offered them up, along with their blood, to get them moving. This worked and the sun and the moon began to make their way across the sky. This act by the gods set the pattern for the many blood sacrifices performed by the future peoples of the Olmec, Zapotec, Maya, and Aztec, who would carry on this tradition to maintain cosmic order and sustain the earth’s fertility.

Quetzalcoatl, as the wind god, Ehecatl, then swept into place clouds formed by his brother, the rain god Tlaloc, who had formed the clouds using the light and heat from the sun. This gave life to the first maize crops. They then created fire and the underworld, which was ruled by Mictlantecuhtl and his consort, Mictlancihuatl. Also present, were Coatlicue, the earth goddess; Tlazolteotl, goddess of childbirth, sexual indulgence, and purification; Chal, the patron goddess of babies and protector of faithful lovers and married couples, and Tonantzin, “Holy Mother,” also known as Teteoinnan-Toci, the mother of the gods, and who was represented in the moon.

Very similar to the Egyptian belief, the Aztecs believed the sun took on different forms over the hours of the day and night. In the morning the sun is Tonatiuh, a youth whose body was dyed red. At noon it is Huitzilopochtli, the bravest of gods, but then at sunset the sun is consumed by the earth monster Tlatecuhtli. But Huitzilopochtli claws and fights its way through the night in the form of Tepeyollotl, the fearless jaguar.

Finally, all that was left to do was to create humans. Quetzalcoatl began this task by travelling down into the underworld and dealing with the lord Michtlantecuhtl, who tested him, before handing over all the bones of the fish-men and fish-women of the previous age. Quetzalcoatl brought the bones to the mother goddess, who ground up the bones into a powder. She then mixed the blood of the gods to make a paste, which she then shaped into the first human babies, boy and girl, which some myths name as Oxomoco and Cipactonal. After this, Quetzalcoatl rises up into the sky to become  Venus, the Morning star. This fifth new world age would be ruled by the sun god Tonatiuh, who would become the leader of the gods in heaven, and is the world age we are currently living in today. This era is called the Four Ollin (Four Earthquake) and is named for the day the gods began to create it. Aztec tradition holds that the current age will end one day with earth shattering earthquakes, followed by severe famine.

Though the Aztecs had many gods, with most derived from earlier cultures and beliefs of other Mesoamerican groups, only one major Aztec god is unique to its people, Huitzilopochtli, the “Humming Bird of the South,” the patron deity of the Mexica tribe who founded the Aztec Empire. The Aztecs were constantly reminded of their creation myths by the priests, and as one, they paid daily and fearful homage to their many god and goddesses, who all had many forms, abilities, and attributes. The people came to believe that their very survival relied on keeping the gods happy, and that human life was but a part of a cosmic movement of energy. If not honoured through blood sacrifice the gods would become displeased and send forth  famine, flood or plague upon the land, or they would not allow the sun to rise in the morning, or would even cause the people a humiliating defeat in battle. Blood sacrifice and ritual human sacrifice was sometimes extreme and got worse as time went on. Astronomy would become very important, for besides tracking the seasons and time, it was important to carry out the rituals and sacrifice at the proper time of the day.  The Aztec sacred calender created by these astronomer-priests and their interpretation of the celestial realm of such things as portents, omens, and behaviour, would organize and control each aspect of everyone’s life.. The sky was the sacred arena and because the meanings could only be deciphered by the priests who controlled the elite, their creation stories would soon include the need to divide Aztec society into two groups, the pipiltin (nobles) and the macehuales (commoners) and then to whatever group you were born, and no matter what one did with their life, you were to stay in that group all your days.

Near the end of the Aztecs, as their empire crumbled, the level of blood sacrifice to their gods reached ungodly levels. As their city-states imploded upon each other, sometimes more than 20,000 people per week were being sacrificed to keep the gods on their side. Imagine, twenty thousand people, one at a time held down upon an altar, their hearts torn and ripped out of their bodies, while they are alive. And then hoped their gods would accept the offering. They didn’t of course and then at the height of the bloodletting the Spanish would arrive to complete the job and make any atonement to the Aztec’s gods mute. More violence in the name of another god and plague would practically erase the Aztecs, as well as many other peoples, from the Americas.

The Norse

In the beginning there was nothing but a dark, deep hole, Ginnungagap (the Yawning Void). Then two worlds emerged. To the south of Ginnungagap arose the realm of fire, Muspellheim. In the north was the freezing land of Niflheim, where twelve rivers soon appeared and began to flow into the void. Eventually the rivers filled the void and reached the heat of Muspelheiml, where fire and ice collided. From this clash of elements came clay, which eventually began to take on life and formed into the primeval frost giant Ymir. To feed this great being, a huge cow was created, Audhumla (the Nourisher). Ymir would feed off her milk, while Audhumla had only the salty rime that lay around the edges of Ginnungagap to sustain herself. After she had begun to lick up the rime, an outline of a man appeared under her tongue, which she spat out. This man was the first god, and would represent good. His name became Buri, (the Producer), grandfather of Odin. From the sweat that would continuously drop off Ymir’s skin, giants would be born, representing evil. It was a cold and dark world with no sky, the only light was what erupted from the flames of Muspellheim and their glittering reflections off the ice of Niflheim.

Buri would have many children. One of his sons, Bor, coupled with one of the giantesses, who would give birth to their first son, Odin. After reaching adulthood, Odin and two of his brothers, Vili and Ve, began a war against the giants. They went right to the source and killed Ymir, whose blood ran out in such volume that it drowned the giants, all except a single couple who fled to Jotunheim. There in the cold and dark world it was where they would give birth to a new race of giants, who would grow up filled with revenge.

Thinking the giants were finally out of the way, Odin, Vili, and Ve, now began the task of creation. They started by creating the world as we know it, from the body of Ymir. His blood was used to create the rivers and seas; his flesh became the land; his bones, the mountains; and his skull became the sky. Four very strong dwarfs were then created, North (Norori), South (Suori), East (Austri), and West (Vestri), to support the corners of the heavens, while sparks were taken from Muspell and scattered across the sky to become the stars. The sun and moon were brother and sister, Mani and Sol, both born to Mundilfari. Sol was the sun goddess, aided by her husband Glen, with her brother Mani becoming the moon. Odin placed them each in their own chariot, so that they could  follow each other across the sky. To keep them always moving, two wolves were made, Skoll (Repulsion) and Hati (Hatred), who were also placed in the sky, forever, relentlessly trying to chase the sun and moon down. The creation of the physical world was now complete, so the gods began to create beings that would inhabit it.

From the maggots that were now infesting Ymir’s rotting corpse, the gods would make dwarfs. The dwarfs were given a consciousness and would become the master craftspeople of the Norse world, but because dwarfs would turn to stone if the sun’s rays fell upon them, they were sent underground to search for gold. Next came human beings, which the gods created using debris that floated on the water and lay along the shores. This human race was placed in a central region, called Midgard, which was protected by a fence made from Ymir’s eyebrows. Nearing the end of creation, the gods built their own realm, Asgard. They filled it with the great halls and palaces that they and all the gods would reside in and could only be reached from across a bridge called Bifrost. Humans could see the bridge from their homes at Midgard, but to them it appeared as a rainbow.

By the time the gods, the elements and the primeval beings were all done and finished, and somewhat satisfied with their creation, the Norse world contained nine different realms. All nine worlds would revolve around the great ash tree, Yggdrasil.  Its top rose up through the middle of Asgard, where the gods lived, while one of its roots ran down to the deepest level, where life originated and was ruled by Hel, the goddess of the underworld, who was half living woman and half rotting corpse. A third root, grew in Midgard, watered from the Well of Knowledge.

The levels of the underworld that lay beneath Asgard and Midgard included the world of the giants, who avoided sunlight at all costs, along with their rude, and just plain mean servants, the trolls. The dark, though sometimes light, world of the dwarfs was of industry. They would become the craftspeople and inventers of all that was needed in the worlds above them. Another part of the underworld lived the elves, an extremely ambivalent race. The beautiful ones were seen as fairies, the ugly ones as goblins. Dragons were also a part of the underworld and would become the guardians of all buried treasures.

Though the gods and the giants were still enemies they, at times, were able to get along and coexist, as did all the other worlds. But they were uneasy alliances and very competitive. With everyone’s daily life often filled with much danger and a belief that they were ruled by an unforgiving fate.

With creation complete, the supreme Norse god Odin, the “All Father,” looked out over the nine worlds of his domain from his perch atop the rock of Hlidskjalf, in Asgard. He was accompanied by his two loyal ravens, Higinn (Thought) and Muninn (Memory). Odin then realized what was missing in the world- knowledge. He firmly believed that knowledge was power, and would become obsessed with attaining it. So he gave up an eye, in exchange for a copy of all that lay within the Tree of Knowledge and then using fermented honey wine he tricked a giant’s greedy daughter into giving him poetic inspiration. Odin found out that the secret to writing and language, the runes, was held in the dark underworld domain of Hel. To obtain these runes, which would become the alphabet of the Norse, Odin gashed open his side with a spear, then crucified himself by hanging from the great tree, Yggdrasil, for nine nights, after which Hel gave up the runes. Odin then used the runes as the medium to bring together religion, language, and art.

Two divine families lived in Asgard. The larger group were the Aesir, which Odin led himself. Also included in this group were other important gods, such as Thor, Baldar, Heimdall, the divine watchman, Tyr, and the goddess’ Frigg, Sif, Nanna, and Iduna. The other group was the Vanir, led by Freyr, his twin sister Freyja, the goddess of love, and their father Njord. Their mother was the giantess Skadi.  All these gods had many powers, including the ability to change shape and raise the dead. But differences between the two groups began to escalate from the very beginning. The Aesir were more combative and warlike, while the Vanir were all about sexual fertility and presided over the sunshine, rain, crops, and all that grew out of the ground. Soon they were at war with each other. The fighting ended with a truce and an exchange of hostages.

From then on, the Aesir would represent the warrior, while the Vanir would embrace wealth and prosperity. Odin became the “Father of Victories” and built Valhalla, the “Hall of the Slain.” Battle maidens known as Valkyries, would escort the fighting dead to Valhalla. Odin became the most respected of the gods, but was also feared the most and was never truly loved. Thor, the greatest warrior and strongest god on the other hand would become the most admired. He was a son of Odin and Jord (Earth) and lived with his wife Sif in a fantastically grand palace in Asgard. He was a dedicated enemy of the giants, but like many of the other gods he would co-mingle from time to time, and had two sons by the giantess, Jarnsaxa, of the Iron Knife. Thor was responsible for upholding order against the forces of chaos, and was also known as the “Defender of Asgard and Midgard.”

Freyja, besides being the goddess of love, became the goddess of birth, death, and fertility, representing the entire human cycle of life. She also was the patron of passion and compassion. Another god, Loki, the son of a giant, became a good friend to Odin. Loki was smart and handsome but was a master of mischief and eventually would evolve into pure evil, “the slander-bearer and promoter of deceit.”

The Norse culture would go on to glorify courage, strength and loyalty, as well as accepting the belief in destiny and predestination. Their society was to be founded  upon the idea of shame, not guilt, as the negative behavioural pole. They didn’t really feel guilty about anything, but would defend their honour intensely and avoid a shameful act at any cost.

Many of these Norse gods are still honoured today, as seen in the names of the days of the week. Saturday is the only day whose name is not taken from the Norse language, it is based on Roman mythology and is related to the planet Saturn. Sunday is, oddly enough, the day of the sun (sunnudagr) and celebrates the sun as the most supreme deity of the entire world. Monday is named after, and celebrates, the moon; Tuesday is named after the Norse god of war Tyr, and is associated with the planet Mars; Wednesday is the day of the greatest Norse god Odin, and is also related to the planet Mercury; Thursday represents Jupiter and is derived from the great warrior god Thor; with Friday’s name based on the goddesses Freyja and Frigg, the day identified with Venus.

Along with their creation, the Norse have an ending as well, the story of Ragnorak or “The Doom of the Gods.” It is a time when the worlds of the gods and humanity will be destroyed. First there will be savage warfare, then a dark and freezing winter that would last three years until earthquakes would wreck destruction upon the world and the earth will sink into the sea. The two wolves, Skoll and Hati, who had been trying to chase down the sun and the moon, will finally catch up to them and devour them both. Chaos will then return. There will be survivors though, gods, humans, and giants alike, and a fresh earth will emerge and a brighter sun will rise and life will continue.

The Haida

In the beginning there was only darkness, with the world  covered in water from a great flood. As the flood’s waters receded,  Raven flew along the now exposed shorelines and fed for the first time. The Raven held incredible supernatural powers and had many traits and a variety of appetites. He was a magician, a practical joker, somewhat of a sexual deviant, a provocative meddler in others’ affairs and was greedy. All the Raven myths passed down over the generations, would teach important lessons on how to live a good life, usually by using the traits of the Raven as a counter-example. But a the same time, the Raven was known and respected for assisting humans in their encounters with other supernatural beings.

With his belly full Raven landed on a desolate stretch of beach and slowly made his way along it. Strutting by a half opened clamshell, he heard something and stopped. At first he saw nothing, then realized the sounds were coming from the shell. In checking it out, he saw that there were tiny people hiding fearfully within the shell. The Raven was extremely curious and despite their fear was able to coax the little people out with repeated calls of, “Come out! Come out!” Once out of their shell, Raven was mesmerized by them, and quickly noticed they were all males. With no feathers or fur with pale skin, stick-like arms, and naked except for the dark hair on their heads,  Raven at first didn’t know what to think. The little people began to explore the beach. Sometimes they seemed to help each other, other times they fought over something they had found. The raven played with them, taught them some tricks, and began to feel sorry for them because they seemed so helpless, had no real shelter, and were very fearful. He began to get bored with them, so he went off down the beach and soon spotted some marine mollusks that were clinging to an exposed rock. These mollusks were the Chiton (pronounced “kaiten”) and beneath each one Raven discovered female counterparts of the little men. Gathering them up, he brought them over to the males and dropped them upon the sand, so that they could perhaps mingle. Right away Raven noticed the differences with these beings. The males, though still fearful, were more proud, agile, and stronger than the females, while the females were softer, rounder, and gentler. Of all the creatures Raven had ever seen, no other males and females were so very different.

At first the tiny people, all very curious and scared, stood there dumbfounded, staring at each other. They were extremely shy and quickly began to be embarrassed for being nude, so they began to use strips of kelp and woven pieces of seaweed to cover themselves. They were filled with confusing feelings, never before felt, and had no idea how to behave. Then the males started to do things that would attract the females. They jumped up and down, ran around in circles and even showed the females the tricks Raven had taught them. Raven became a little worried about their goofy behaviour, but eventually they became attracted to each other and began to pair off. But some of the males played too rough and caused some females to cry. The tears that were shed had an incredible emotional power over the males, and it brought out protective instincts. Raven was amazed at this, for it seemed that the strengths of each human, balanced out the weakness of others.

Besides seeing that the people were getting along, Raven also couldn’t help but notice that they were also cold and hungry, so he fed them some fish and then gave them fire. Before leaving, he taught them the secrets of hunting, fishing, and of the world that was to come. Raven was feeling quite good about himself. With such a successful pairing of these people, the first Haida, he would become very protective of them, and would become the provider for humanity. Raven soon left, taking with him the power of the spirit world’s ability to communicate and connect with humans. The Haida grew in both stature and numbers. Raven then created the trees so the people could build their long-houses and live together with their growing families.

Flying off, Raven would eventually spy the beautiful daughter of the god Gray Eagle, the guardian of the sun, moon, stars, freshwater and fire. Gray Eagle hated the humans that had begun populating his lands, so he kept the sun, moon, stars and freshwaters hidden from them. The Raven, up until now, was a brilliantly white bird, and had been noticed by Gray Eagle’s daughter. They fell in love and she invited Raven into her father’s long-house. Looking around inside, Raven saw the sun, the moon and stars, water and a fire-stick all hanging along the walls. When nobody was looking, he stole them and left Gray Eagles home. Upon leaving he flew up and hung the sun in the sky. Flying great distances while waiting for the sun to set, he returned and hung the moon in the sky, placing the stars in patterns and shapes upon the night sky, dividing the night from the day. Under the dim light of the moon, Raven then flew over the land and dropped the freshwater onto it, creating the source for the streams, rivers and lakes, and from which trees of cedar would grow. He then began to pull on the tides of the ocean, giving them rhythm. Upon the rivers and lakes he scattered the eggs of salmon and trout, and upon the land and within the young forests, he placed the animals.

All the while Raven had been flying around creating things, he had held the smoldering fire-stick in his beak and the smoke from it had been blowing back over his white feathers turning them black. From then on he was to be the black bird he is today. When his bill began to burn, he dropped the stick, which plummeted down to some rocks below and hid within them. This is why today when one strikes two stones together there are sparks of fire.

The Raven was not alone in the spirit world. There were the death gods, Ta’xet and Tia;  Ta’xet representing violent death, and Tia representing peaceful death. Gyhideptis was the kind forest goddess, and Lagua, an invisible spirit who brought knowledge and iron. The shamans of the Haida could speak Lagua’s voice by clenching their teeth. A part of the Haida creation myth also tells of the Bear god, Kaiti, and his wife, Dzalarhons, the goddess of frogs and volcanoes. They arrived from somewhere out on the ocean after a great flood, with six canoes full of the original people.

Most all Native American creation stories and mythologies are intertwined with the natural world and often used animals as creators, messengers, protectors, guardians, and advisors. The animals were often thought to possess human qualities and could speak, think, and act like humans. Animals such as the raven, coyote, bear, eagle, spider, and turtle are found in nearly all stories recounting the origin of a tribe. Animals were thought to be spiritual guides and important players in the community’s daily existence. In the lore of many tribes, animals walked the earth before man, and helped to shape, teach, feed, and spiritually nurture the people who eventually lived with them. They played a vital role in the life of the people, and honouring their spirits could bring blessings, life balance, and abundance. Native Americans believe in the special medicine or power that each animal holds. Mythic beasts, like the Thunderbird, are often given the highest respect that could be bestowed on a spirit, in the role of creator. When an individual or tribe needed assistance, it called upon an individual animal’s knowledge, power, and spirit. Even up to this day, animals are considered sacred by the Native Americans and are appealed to in times of need. Many of these creation stories also included humanized beings that act as gods of the sky, earth, water, and sun, like Mother Earth, Father Sky, and the Earth Maker.

Native American creation stories tell that there was are no differences between the natural and the supernatural. The material world and the spiritual world were one, a unified realm of being, where plants, animals and humans partook of divinity through their connection with guardian spirits, the supernatural and with nature. Everything is connected. When there was a need to enlist the aid of the spirits to control something of the natural or social worlds, each tribe had its own set of rituals. Individuals used private prayer or sacrifices of valuable items to appease or gain assistance from the powerful spiritual entities. There were also times when whole communities sought divine assistance. During such times, they would call upon the shamans and priests for guidance whom they believed had gained supernatural powers through visions.

Besides a plethora of lesser spirits and deities, nearly all Native American cultures worshipped an all-powerful, all-knowing Creator or “Master Spirit.” The people themselves would live simple, social lives mixed within a framework of complex spirituality. They believed all things were related and that they themselves were a part of something that was far larger then themselves, and which depended on the balance of forces to keep the universe operating in an orderly and harmonious manner. Anything the people could do to help maintain this balance, through rituals, ceremonies, and taboos was a deeply felt responsibility. With everyone held accountable for their actions; most all tribes believed in the immortality of the human soul, and in an afterlife that was filled with an abundance of every good thing that made earthly life, safe, calm, and peaceful.

The Iroquois Federation

The Iroquois are not one people, but a federation of six nations. The Cayuga, Mohawk, Seneca, Oneida, Onondaga and Tuscarora peoples cultures are predominate around the southeast shores and of Lake Ontario, in North America.

In the beginning there was nothing except a floating island, where a lone, stately tree grew. It floated on a great white cloud sea and was visited from time to time by the Sky People. It was so large a tree that its branches had grown beyond the range of vision and were always heavily laden with fruit and blossoms. The air all around was fragrant with its scents. Once in awhile the Sky People would gather in it’s shade and hold councils. At one of these councils, the Great Ruler, decided a place should be created where another people may grow, for each time they had met, the Sky People could make out faint cries for help that whispered out of the great cloud sea upon which their island floated. The calls were filled with a melancholy tone and would sound lonely, knowing of no rest and which were desperate for assistance.

The Great Ruler said that since their council tree’s branches rose above them, the roots of the tree which pointed downward to the cloud sea, would show them the way. He then pulled the great tree out of the ground and held it above him. Peering into its depths, he didn’t see much, so he summoned the sky goddess Ata-Hen-Sic, who was with child, and asked her to look down as well.  Ata-Hen-Sic did not see anything either. But they could still hear the faint cries that called to them from the cloud sea, so he wrapped Ata-Hen-Sic up in a cloak of light and sent her down into the cloud sea.

The voices the gods heard were animals that lived beneath the great cloud sea. And when they noticed a bright light slowly descending, there was much confusion and distress among them, and they became very alarmed. It was really starting to freak them out. The Duck was afraid that the descending bright light would fall and destroy them, and cried out, asking “Where will it rest?” “Only the oeh-da (earth) which lies at the bottom of our waters can hold it,” answered the Beaver, “I will bring it.” The Beaver headed downwards but never returned. Then the Duck gave it a shot, but soon its dead body floated to the surface. Many others dived down but all failed. Finally the Muskrat, who knew the way, volunteered and soon returned, holding a small portion of the earth in his paw. “It is heavy and will grow fast,” said the Muskrat, “Who will bear its weight?” The Turtle was willing, and so the oeh-da was placed on his hard shell. Having made a resting place for the light that was descending, the water birds, guided by its glow, flew upward and took the woman onto their widespread wings and brought her down to the Turtle’s back.

The Turtle became Hah-nu-nah, the Earth Bearer. And from then on, whenever he moved, the seas would rise in great waves, and when he became restless or violent, earthquakes would yawn and devour great swaths of the earth. But the earth grew quickly upon Ata-hen-sic’s body and became an island, but Ata-hen-sic, hearing voices under her heart, one soft and soothing, the other loud and contentious, knew that her mission to people this island, was nearing. Two lives were growing within her, one peaceful and patient, the other restless and vicious. The latter, discovering light under his mothers arm, thrust himself through to become conflict and strife, and was called Hah-gweh-da-et-gah, while the other entered life for freedom and peace and would become Hah-gweh-di-yu. These twin brothers would become the Spirits of Good and Evil. As soon as they were born, they understood the powers they each held and each claimed dominion over the dawning world. Hah-gweh-di-yu claimed the right to beautify the island, while his brother Hah-gweh-da-et-gah was determined to destroy it. Each would go their own way, only to have peace and good thwarted by contention and evil, every step of the way.

After their births, their mother Ata-hen-sic died and the Earth began to rise from her lifeless body, and earth and mother would become “Mother Earth.”  Hah-gweh-di-yu alone, mourned his mother’s death and from his grief he shaped the sky with the palms of his hands in her honour and created the sun from her face and spoke the words, “You shall rule here where your face will shine forever.” But his wicked brother set darkness in the western sky and pulled the sun down behind it. Hah-gwen-di-yu then took from his mother’s breast, the moon and the stars, to become his sisters who would guard the night sky when the sun lay behind the darkness. Next he planted maize in Mother Earth, from where all things would grow. He then created towering mountains, and in their valleys he put straight rivers that ran into the sea. He set up high hills along each side of the rivers to protect them, and placed forests on them. On the low plains he planted fruit-bearing trees and vines, which could scatter their seed upon the winds. It was beautiful. But soon enough the evil one, Hah-gweh-da-et-gah, noticed and completely lost it. He viciously tore apart the mountains and threw the pieces into different directions. Enraged he pushed the hills into wavering valleys, and wherever he found them he’d put bends in the rivers. He scattered the forests, and led monsters into the sea where they were to dwell. He then herded together hurricanes in the sky, that chased after the sun, moon, and stars.

Hah-gweh-di-yu could not watch the beauty he had created be assaulted and destroyed, so he made his way across a vast ocean that had appeared, and there met a being who told him that he was his father. “How high can you reach?”, the being asked. Hah-gweh-di-yu reached up and touched the sky. The being then asked, “How much can you lift?” and Hah-gweh-di-yu took hold of a mountain and threw it far into space. The being then said, “You are worthy to be my son” and quickly lashed upon Hah-gweh-di-yu’s back two packs, and asked him to return to the earth. Hah-gweh-di-yu swam back, taking many days and for his entire journey the sun did not leave the sky until he had made it back to the earth. The burdens on his back were heavy. Though Hah-gweh-di-yu was strong, when he reached the shore they fell apart and opened.

From one pack flew an eagle, who guided all the birds that were to follow. They filled the sky with song and flew into the forest. From the other pack came animals led by a deer, and they all sped off into the mountains.  Hah-gweh-de-at-gah had been watching though, and chased the animals with, “wild beasts that devour, and grim flying creatures that steal life without sign, and creeping reptiles to poison the way.”

With the earth finally created, amid the distractions of his evil brother, Hah-gweh-di-yu bestowed a protecting spirit upon each of his creations.  The personification of the wind was Gaol. The winter god would become Gomone, with Adekagagwaa ruling over the summer. The patron of farming was to be Onatha, while the giant Tarhuhyiawahku would hold up the sky. He then decided to face off with his brother.

Hah-gweh-di-yu asked Hah-gweh-de-at-gah if they could reconcile their differences and asked if he would put his vicious behaviour aside and enter the peacefulness of his own. Hah-gweh-de-at-gah laughed in his brother’s face and instead challenged Hah-gweh-di-yu to a fight, with the winner becoming the ruler of the earth.

Hah-gweh-da-et-gah proposed weapons which he could control, such as poisonous roots, strong as flint, monster’s teeth and fangs of serpents. But these Hah-gweh-di-yu refused, instead selecting the thorns of the giant crab apple tree, which were pointed like an arrow and strong. Using such thorns, the brothers fought, with the battle lasting many days and with no quarter given. But eventually  Hah-gweh-da-et-gah was beaten down and banished to a pit under the earth, a place from which he would never be able to return. The only things he was able to retain were his servants, who were half-human and half-beasts, who he would send out from time to time, to continue his destructive work.

Hah-gweh-di-yu now the Ruler of the Universe, was faithful to the prophecy of the Great Ruler of the floating island, that stated the earth should be peopled, and in an instant, created the first human beings. Hah-gweh-di-yu would watch over the people continuously, creating new things and faithfully protecting the sky, the seas, and the earth. Ha-wen-neyu came down to assist in watching over creation, becoming the Great Spirit, with the god, Oki, representing the life force of the Iroquois. One of the last gods to appear was Losheka, the Benevolent One, Healer of Disease, Defeater of Demons, and creator of magic, rituals and introducing tobacco into ceremony. The human beings prospered in this bristling, over abundant land of life and nature.

The human beings would eventually become six nations, with the people of each nation being divided into one of nine clans. The clan that one would become a part of, was based, according to matrilineality, where the lineage was traced through the mother. The nine clans were the Wolf, Bear, Turtle, Snipe, Deer, Beaver, Heron, Hawk, and Eel.

Though there were many variations of creation myths among the Native Americans, most all their traditions’ emphasis; balance, completion, integrity, and personal wholeness were within sacred natural processes. When North America was invaded by Europeans, the conquerors called them primitives, but what the conquerors were ignorant of was that the natives “primitiveness” was self chosen. The Native Americans had been evolving, isolated from Europe and much of the rest of the world, in a pristine environment, much like the ancestors of the conquerors had lived, before Egypt and Mesopotamia, in a lush garden of Eden. They not only lived close to nature, they believed that they had a symbiotic relationship with nature and were very aware of the present moment. Their cultures, though not perfect, still held a great sense of sacred intimacy with the natural environment. Their lives were dictated by the elements of nature and of each other, and many would achieve enlightenment in their lives. They were civilizations that had chosen to develop along its own lines, instead of by the doctrine of a church and of the ego, like their invaders.

 




 

 

 

 

www.flickr.com/photos/mckaysavage/497682113/
Everest to the right, Nuptse/Lhoste to the right.

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