Myths and Legends
“A long time ago, there lived a human being who always went out of his way to help the people of his village.
“When the elders could no longer hunt for themselves, he would bring them food.
“A young couple getting married could count on him to help make their tipi poles and gather the hides needed to cover their lodge.
“If a child’s family was killed, he would take that child in and raise it as his own.
“And there were many more good deeds he performed that no one knew of, because he never sought praise or attention for his actions. Every day he remained alert to what he could do to help his tribe, and he did so with good humor and enthusiasm.
“Many years went by in this way and all the while the Creator watched this man and took note of his virtues.
“At long last, when the man’s hair had turned to snow, and the days ahead were becoming fewer, the Creator thought, ‘All these years I’ve watched him help my people. I could use someone like him to be helping out all the time. I’m going to immortalize him.’
“So the Creator turned the man into a cedar tree.”
Bear Heart continued:
“There are many uses for cedar — it stays green year round, so it can be gathered and dried at any time. Burning dried cedar on coals creates smoke and we can pray with that smoke — it carries our prayers up to the Heavens.
“When children are restless in a home, burning cedar calms them down.
“When you just don’t feel too good for hardly any reason at all, you can burn cedar in your home and you’ll feel better. The cedar already knows what’s needed to bring harmony because he was a man who knew how to help people.
“So that’s the story of cedar. He was a man once.”
Long ago, the Great Bear wandered freely throughout the sky. His massive paws took him far across the boundless ceiling of the world. He hunted and fished, feeding there in the rivers of the sky. All throughout the first spring he did this, until his belly was full and he was happy.
Little did he know that three braves had discovered him feeding that spring and they sought his meat and pelt to feed their families in the long winter that they knew was coming.
Without warning, the braves ran out after the bear. The Great Bear took off running, trying to escape from the hunters. All through the long summer he ran, trying to get away. The braves, however, were very cunning and strong. It was in the first autumn when their arrows pierced the Great Bear and he died.
The blood of the bear spilled out of the sky and tinged all of the leaves with red and orange. The trees then dropped all of their leaves in mourning for their friend.
The Great Bear was reborn the following spring as is the way of bears, and the braves set out after him again. They do this each year. If you look into the sky and watch, you can see the three braves trailing behind the Great Bear as he runs from them towards the horizon, only to do it again with the coming of spring.
An Iroquois Legend
Adapted by Harriet Maxwell Converse
There was a time, says the Iroquois grandmother, when it was not needful to plant the corn- seed nor to hoe the fields, for the corn sprang up of itself, and filled the broad meadows. Its stalks grew strong and tall, and were covered with leaves like waving banners, and filled with ears of pearly grain wrapped in silken green husks.
In those days Onatah, the Spirit of the Corn, walked upon the earth. The sun lovingly touched her dusky face with the blush of the morning, and her eyes grew soft as the gleam of the stars on dark streams. Her night-black hair was spread before the breeze like a wind-driven cloud.
As she walked through the fields, the corn, the Indian maize, sprang up of itself from the earth and filled the air with its fringed tassels and whispering leaves. With Onatah walked her two sisters, the Spirits of the Squash and the Bean. As they passed by, squash-vines and bean-plants grew from the corn-hills.
One day Onatah wandered away alone in search of early dew. Then the Evil One of the earth, Hahgwehdaetgah, followed swiftly after. He grasped her by the hair and dragged her beneath the ground down to his gloomy cave. Then, sending out his fire-breathing monsters, he blighted Onatah’s grain. And when her sisters, the Spirits of the Squash and the Bean, saw the flame- monsters raging through the fields, they flew far away in terror.
As for poor Onatah, she lay a trembling captive in the dark prison-cave of the Evil One. She mourned the blight of her cornfields, and sorrowed over her runaway sisters.
“O warm, bright sun!” she cried, “if I may walk once more upon the earth, never again will I leave my corn!”
And the little birds of the air heard her cry, and winging their way upward they carried her vow and gave it to the sun as he wandered through the blue heavens.
The sun, who loved Onatah, sent out many searching beams of light. They pierced through the damp earth, and entering the prison-cave, guided her back again to her fields.
And ever after that she watched her fields alone, for no more did her sisters, the Spirits of the Squash and Bean, watch with her. If her fields thirsted, no longer could she seek the early dew. If the flame-monsters burned her corn, she could not search the skies for cooling winds. And when the great rains fell and injured her harvest, her voice grew so faint that the friendly sun could not hear it.
But ever Onatah tenderly watched her fields and the little birds of the air flocked to her service. They followed her through the rows of corn, and made war on the tiny enemies that gnawed at the roots of the grain.
And at harvest-time the grateful Onatah scattered the first gathered corn over her broad lands, and the little birds, fluttering and singing, joyfully partook of the feast spread for them on the meadow-ground.
The story of False Face as told by Mad Bear Anderson.
I will tell you his story – who he is and how he came to look like that. But he is gone on now, evolved beyond this. These Beings have graduated and gone to a higher world – and they are high, high, high, beyond us. Yet we keep the False Face in this form and we pay honor and respect to it. It reminds us of a lesson far ahead of us – a hard lesson that we have yet to learn.
I call him False face even though that wasn’t his name at his time. That was never the name of him or his people but that is how we refer to it. False Face had studied and learned all the basic things in the universe. Then he had prepared and developed himself in all the medicine ways. It took centuries of hard work, but eventually he developed all the spiritual powers known on this Earth. He knew all the ways of the Creator.
One day False Face stood out in a large field looking at the skies and at the mountains in the distance. And he thought to himself: Knowing as I do all the ways of the Creator, all things in this world are possible for me. I now understand how all things are done. Why, if it should be my will, those mountains should have to move.
And then he heard the voice of the Creator whom he knew as the Great Lord of the Universe. The voice said, “Yes, I am the Lord and the mountains are there by my will.”
False face paused for a moment. Many times he had heard the voice of the Creator; but now he was thinking only of himself. Speaking aloud, he announced in a powerful voice, “I have come to know the ways of the Lord and I can duplicate them all! I can move these mountains if I wish!”
And the Creator repeated, “Yes, I am the Lord and I can move mountains.”
“Not you!” shouted False Face. “I am referring to myself, I am talking about me. Have I developed all this for nothing? Can I do nothing myself? I have learned all the rules of power and creation! Do you still think I am useless without you?”
“You are never without me,” the Great Spirit answered in a gentle voice, “for I am always with you.”
“But I know all your secrets now,” False Face protested. “I know how you do all these things.”
“It is because you have come to me,” said the Great Spirit.
In spite of all that he had learned, in spite of all his training and wisdom, False Face experienced a rush of great pride and anger, and he shouted at the Creator. “Go away. Leave me alone. I don’t need you anymore. I am now powerful and you want to think of me as your little child. I am not your little child anymore. I can do anything that you can do. So just leave me alone.”
“Alone?” said the Great Spirit. “There is no alone. How can I leave you? We are one and cannot be apart.”
These gentle, loving words only made False Face more angry. It seemed to him, in his anger, that the Lord was discrediting him in spite of all his long efforts and the remarkable knowledge and power that he had attained. It seemed to him that the Great Spirit was still claiming all power for himself.
In his angry state, False Face determined to have a contest with the Lord of the Universe and he challenged Him. “I know you don’t want these mountains moved, Lord. But I am going to move them against your will. Then you will see that I am something in my own right. You can pit your power against me if you wish, Lord!”
“I do not pit anything against anything,” answered the Lord. “This idea of a contest is a temporary dream. Wake up and come to me now and you will see that nothing is anything in its own right apart from all that is.”
But False Face repeated his challenge, “You are trying to take everything away from me, Lord. You cannot take this chance away. Do what you like. Oppose me if you like, but I am going to move these mountains anyway, knowing that you want them where they are, so that it will be clear that it is done by my will alone.”
False face waited there in the field, grim and determined, and there was nothing but silence. So he went about the contest. Though he strained with all his might, trying everything that he had learned and developed over the centuries, nothing happened. Nothing at all. There was only a soft breeze, and the mountains stood in the distance as always. he flew into a rage, cursing in a way that cannot be repeated and, when there was only silence, daring the Lord to respond. He called the Great Spirit a fake and a liar, claiming the Creator had pitted his Great Will against him in spite of promising he would not.
Then an idea occurred to him. He would have his contest yet. He shouted at the Lord, daring the Lord to move the mountain while he tried to block Him with his own will as the Lord had done to him. He believed that if the Lord had neutralized his power then he could do the same to Him. But he also believed that the Lord might well want the mountains where they were and would be unwilling to move them. In either case, nothing would happen. He craved to claim victory over the Lord and he felt sure he would win his dare.
He shouted his challenge again. He clenched his fists and squinted his eyes and screamed into the sky; and before he could finish his sentence, he heard a trembling and a rumbling. He spun around to look just as the mountain was coming to his side. That was a mistake, for that caused the mountain to strike his face and break his nose.
And at that the gentle voice of the Great Spirit was heard again. “Now look what we have done to our beloved self. No matter. It is very temporary. We shall now set it right with our collective will, shall we?”
False Face felt a moment of great pain, and then he had a sudden awareness. There was no contest. There had never been any contest. This was another of his countless lessons. But this was the ultimate lesson and he had arranged it – he and His Own Self – so that he could be free from the desire to be a separate, independent something in its own right. So that he could be free from being apart and alone.
Mad Bear went on to say:
“Just think what we have to look forward to. After all our learning and development, we are still going to come to that last great contest – that last big hurdle for the powerful ego. Isn’t that something? But once you have made that last hurdle, that’s it. Then you graduate and go on to a higher level. “
In the very earliest of times,
When both people and animals lived on the earth,
A person could become an animal if he wanted to
And an animal could become a human being.
Sometimes they were people
And sometimes animals
And there was no difference.
All spoke the same language.
That was a time when words were like magic.
The human mind had mysterious powers.
A word spoken by chance
Might have strange consequences.
It would suddenly become alive
And what people said wanted to happen
Could happen ~
All you had to do was say it
Nobody could explain this:
That’s the way it was.
~An Old Eskimo story
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