Creation Myth

Creation Myth

Creation Myth

Reader’s Guide

Background The Cheyenne, a Native American people, have inhabited the North American continent for centuries. During the seventeenth century, the Cheyenne migrated from the Great Lakes region to the central plains. Their life on the plains was firmly linked with nature in general-and with the buffalo in particular. They came to depend upon the buffalo for their livelihood, and they made use of virtually every part of the animal: its flesh, its hide, and even its bones. Many Cheyenne religious rituals, such as the Sun Dance, were designed to ensure the abun- dance of buffalo.

This Cheyenne myth is in many ways a “typical” creation story. It contains several common motifs, or recurring story features. Of spe- cial interest is the “earth-diver” motif. In this motif, a god sends a bird or animal to the depths of the ocean to bring back a bit of soil from which the entire earth can be created. This motif occurs among a variety of Native American peoples, but it occurs in remote parts of the world as well, such as Siberia. The turtle, too, is a recurring figure in the mythologies of many lands, from North America to China and India.

Oral Response

Oral Response Many cultures view the earth as a female figure. The ancient Greeks, for example, personified the earth as a goddess called Gaia. The an- cient Sumerians worshiped Ki, or Urash, the earth goddess. Today we often speak of “Mother Earth” and “the Earth Mother.” As a class, discuss the feminine qualities of the earth. You may wish to record the class’s ideas in the form of a word cluster on the chalkboard.

Literary Focus An origin myth is a story that explains how something began. Origin myths provide explanations for mysteries that early peoples wanted to understand: why there are seasons, why we have day and night, why the moon has phases. Virtually every culture has an origin myth that explains the greatest mystery of all: the creation of the world.

 

 

How THE WORLD WAS MADE A Cheyenne Myth

retold by

ALICE MARRIOTT AND CAROL K. RACHLIN

~

Do any of the details in this Cheyenne creation myth remind you of other stories you are familiar with?

In the beginning there was nothing, and Ma- heo, the All Spirit. lived in the void. He looked around him, but there was nothing to see. He listened, but there was nothing to hear. There was only Maheo, alone in nothingness.

Because of the greatness of his Power, Maheo was not lonesome. His being was a Universe. But as he moved through the endless time of nothingness, it seemed to Maheo that his Power should be put to use. What good is Power, Maheo asked himself. if it is not used to make a world and people to live in it?

With his Power, Maheo created a great water. like a lake. but salty. Out of this salty water, Maheo knew, he could bring all life that ever was to be. The lake itself was life, if Maheo so commanded it. In the darkness of nothingness, Maheo could feel the cool- ness of the water and taste on his lips the tang of the salt.

“There should be water beings,” Maheo told his Power. And so it was. First the fish, swimming in the deep water, and then the mussels and snails and crawfish, lying on the sand and mud Maheo had formed so his lake should have a bottom.

Let us also create something that lives on the water, Maheo thought to his Power.

And so it was. For now there were snow geese, and mallards and teal and coots and terns and loons living and swimming about on the water’s surface. Maheo could hear the splashing of their feet and the flapping of their wings in the darkness.

I should like to see the things that have been created, Maheo decided.

And, again, so it was. Light began to grow and spread, first white and bleached in the east, then golden and strong till it filled the middle of the sky and extended all around the horizon. Maheo watched the light. and he saw the birds and fishes. and the shellfish lying on the bottom of the lake as the light showed them to him.

How beautiful it all is, Maheo thought in his heart.

Then the snow goose paddled over to where she thought Maheo was, in the space above the lake. “I do not see You,but I know that You exist,” the goose began. “I do not know where You are, but I know You must be everywhere. Listen to me. Maheo. This is good water that You have made, on which we live. Butbirds are not like fish. Sometimes

 

 

we get tired swimming. Sometimes we would like to get out of the water.”

“Then fly,” said Maheo, and he waved his arms, and all the water birds flew, skittering along the surface of the lake until they had speed enough to rise in the air. The skies were darkened with them.

“How beautiful their wings are in the light,” Maheo said to his Power, as the birds wheeled and turned, and became living pat- terns against the sky.

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