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The Village Of Souls

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

The Great Hare, the Algonquians say, departed, after his labours, to the far West, where he dwells in the Village of Souls with his Grandmother and his Brother. Perrot tells of an Indian who had wandered far from his own country, encountering a man so tall that he could not descry his head. The trembling hunter hid himself, but the giant said: "My son, why art thou afraid? I am the Great Hare, he who has caused thee and many others to be born from the dead bodies of various animals. Now I will give thee a companion." Accordingly, he bestowed a wife on the man, and then continued, "Thou, man, shalt hunt, and make canoes, and do all things that a man must do; and thou, woman, shalt do the cooking for thy husband, make his shoes, dress the skins of animals, sew, and perform all the tasks that are proper for a woman." Le Jeune relates another tale: how "a certain savage had received from Messou the gift of immortality in a little package, with a strict injunction not to open it; while he kept it closed he was immortal, but his wife, being curious and incredulous, wished to see what was inside this present; and having opened it, it all flew away, and since then the savages have been subject to death." Thus, in the New World as in the Old, woman's curiosity is mankind's bane.

A story which has many versions is that of the journey of a group of men sometimes four, sometimes seven to the abode of the Great Hare. He receives them courteously, entertains them after their long journey, and asks each his wish. One asks for skill in war, another for success in hunting, another for fame, another for love, and the Master of Life assures each of the granting of his request. But there is one man yet to be heard from, and his plea is for long life; whereupon he is transformed into a tree or, better, a stone: "You shall have your wish; here you shall always remain for future generations to look upon," says the Hare. An odd sequel to this story is that the returning warriors find their journey very short, or again that what has seemed only a brief period turns out to have been a stay of years shifts of time which indicate that their travel has led them into the spirit-world.

In another tale, this time from the Huron country, the fateful journey to the Village of Souls is undertaken by a man who has lost his beloved sister. Her spirit appears to him from time to time as he travels, but he is unable to touch her. At last, after crossing an almost impassable river, he comes to the abode of one who directs him to the dancing-house of the spirits. There he is told to seize his sister's soul, imprison it in a pumpkin, and, thus secured, to take it back to the land of the living, where he will be able to reanimate it, provided that, during the ceremony, no one raises an eye to observe. This he does, and he feels the life returning to his sister's body, but at the last moment a curious person ventures to look, and the returning life flees away. Here is the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice.

In both Algonquian and Iroquoian myth the path to the Village of Souls is guarded by dread watchers, ready to cast into the abyss beneath those whose wickedness has given them into the power of these guardians for this path they find in the Milky Way, whose Indian name is the Pathway of Souls.

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