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Caddoan Cosmogonies

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



Of the Caddoan stock the northerly Arikara were in close association with the Hidatsa and the Mandan. Among them it is natural to find again the story of the demiurgic pair "Wolf and Lucky Man," as they name these heroes; but the Arikara also have stories belonging to their own southerly origin, especially legends of Mother Corn, the great goddess of all the Caddoan tribes. It was Mother Corn who, with the help of the animals, led the people from the under into the upper world, after which she apportioned territories, and taught the use of implements and ceremonial rites. Previous to their coming, the earth was inhabited by a race of people "so strong that they were not afraid of anybody, but they did not have good sense; they made fun of all the gods in heaven." This sounds curiously like the Greek myth of the race of Giants; nor is the sequel unlike the Greek. "Nesaru looked down upon them, and was angry. Nesaru said: `I made them too strong. I will not keep them. They think that they are like myself. I shall destroy them, but I shall put away my people that I like and that are smaller.' The giants were killed in a flood, while the animals and maize were preserved in a cave. Eventually, from an ear of maize which he had raised in heaven, Nesaru created a woman, Mother Corn, whom he sent into the underworld to deliver the people imprisoned there, and to lead them once more into the light of day a Descent into Hell, like that of Ishtar or Persephone or many another Corn Goddess.

The Pawnee of Nebraska tell a more complicated tale of first things, with a suggestively astrological motive under-lying the myth. In the beginning were Tirawa, Chief of Tirawahut, the great circle of the heavens," and Atira, his spouse, the Sky-Vault. Around them sat the gods in council, the place of each appointed by Tirawa. The latter spoke to the gods, saying: "Each of you gods I am to station in the heavens; and each of you shall receive certain powers from me, for I am about to create people who shall be like myself. They shall be under your care. I will give them your land to live upon, and with your assistance they shall be cared for." Then he appointed the station of Sakuru, the Sun, in the east, to give light and warmth; and that of Pah, the Moon, in the west, to illumine the night. Also, he allotted the stations of the stars. To Bright Star, the evening star, he said, "You shall stand in the west. You shall be known as Mother of all things; for through you all beings shall be created." To Great Star, the morning star, he spake, "You shall stand in the east. You shall be a warrior. Each time you drive the people towards the west, see that none lag behind." To the Star-That-Does-Not-Move he appointed the north as station, and he made him the star-chief of the skies. And in the south he placed Spirit Star, "for you shall be seen only once in a while, at a certain time of the year." Four other stars he set over the quartered regions, north-east and north-west, and south-east and south-west, and commanding these four to move closer to him, he said to them: "You four shall be known as the ones who shall uphold the heavens. There you shall stand as long as the heavens last, and, although your place is to hold the heavens up, I also give you power to create people. You shall give them different bundles, which shall be holy bundles. Your powers will be known by the people, for you shall touch the heavens with your hands, and your feet shall touch the earth."

After this, Tirawa said to Bright Star, the west star: "I will send to you Clouds, Winds, Lightnings, and Thunders. When you have received these gods, place them between you and the Garden. When they stand by the Garden, they shall turn into human beings. They shall have the downy feather in their hair [symbol of the breath of life]. Each shall wear the buffalo robe for his covering. Each shall have about his waist a lariat of buffalo hair. Each shall also wear moccasins. Each of them shall have the rattle in his right hand [symbol of the garden of the Evening Star]. These four gods shall be the ones who shall create all things."

Then the Clouds gathered; the Winds blew; Lightnings and Thunders entered the Clouds. When space was canopied, Tirawa dropped a pebble into their midst, which was rolled about in the thick Clouds. The storm passed, and a waste of waters was revealed. Then to the Star-Gods of the World-Quarters Tirawa gave war-clubs, bidding them to strike the waters with them; and as they obeyed, the waters separated, and the earth was made,

When all this had come to pass, Tirawa commanded the Bright Star of the evening to tell the Star-Gods of the Quarters to sing of the formation of the earth. As they sang, the elemental gods, the Clouds and the Winds and the Lightnings and the Thunders, again assembled, and from the might of their storm earth was divided into hill and valley. Then again Tirawa bade, through Bright Star, that the Star-Gods of the Quarters should sing of timber and of vegetation, and again there was a storm, and earth was given a dress of living green. A third time they sang, and the waters of earth were cleansed and sweetened and coursed in flowing streams. A fourth time they sang, and all manner of seeds, which had been dropped to earth, sprouted into life.

Now, at the decree of Tirawa, the Sun and the Moon were united, and from their union was born a son; and the Morning and the Evening Stars were united, and from them a daughter was born. And these two, boy and girl, were placed upon the earth, but as yet they had no understanding. Then Tirawa again commanded: "Tell the four gods to sing about putting life into the children. As the four gods rattled their gourds, the Winds arose, the Clouds came up, the Lightnings entered the Clouds. The Thunders also entered the Clouds. The Clouds moved down upon the earth, and it rained upon the two children. The Lightnings struck about them. The Thunders roared. It seemed to awaken them. They understood."

To this pair a son was born, and then "they seemed to under-stand all; that they must labor to feed the child and clothe him. Before this time they had not cared anything about clothing or food, nor for shelter." Tirawa saw their needs, and he sent the messenger gods to bear them gifts and to instruct them. To the woman they gave seeds and the moisture to fructify them; they bestowed upon her the lodge and the lodge altar, the holy place; they presented her with the fireplace, and they taught her the use of fire; the power of speech also was granted her; and the space about the lodge was to be hers; and the materials of the sacred pipes. To the man was given man's clothing and the insignia of the warrior: the war-club, "to remind him that with war-clubs earth was divided from the waters"; knowledge of paints, and the names of the animals; bow and arrows, and the pipes that should be sacred to the gods. "As each star came over the land, the young man went to the place where the Lightning had struck upon the mountains. He found flint-stones with bows and arrows. When the gods had sung the songs about giving these things to these two people, the boy had seen the bow and arrows held up by his father, the Sun."

After this, Bright Star came to the man in visions and revealed to him the rites of sacrifice and the making of the bundle of sacred objects which was to be hung up in the lodge. Meanwhile the gods had created other people, and to these also had been given bundles by the gods who had formed them; but as yet they did not know the rites that were appropriate to them. Then Bright Star said to the man: "Each of these bundles contains a different kind of corn, given by the gods. The Southwest people have the white corn; the North-west people have the yellow corn; the Northeast people have the black corn; the Southeast people have the red corn." She promised that one would be sent to reveal the rites of the bundles. Thereupon Closed Man for this was the chief's name summoned the peoples from the four quarters, and a man who had learned the rituals in a vision taught them the songs and ceremonies. They made their camp in a circle, and ranged the people in imitation of the stations of the stars; and the priests performed a drama symbolizing the creation, making movements over a bowl of water "to show the people how the gods had struck the water when the land was divided from the waters."

Closed Man was the first chief. After he died, his skull was placed upon a bundle; "for before he had died he had told the people that Tirawa had told him, through Bright Star, that when he should die his skull should be placed upon the bundle, so that his spirit should have power, and be ever present with the Skidi people."

This extraordinary myth offers a multitude of analogies, not only with New-World, but also with Old-World cosmogonies. There is in it not a little that is suggestive of the Biblical Genesis, or of the time when the morning stars sang together and cloud and thick darkness were earth's swaddling-band. The Star-Gods of the Quarters, whose feet touch earth and whose hands uphold the heavens, are the very image of the cosmic Titans of old Mediterranean lore, and of the Homeric Strife, "who holdeth her head in the Heavens while her feet tread the Earth." In the earlier astronomical portion of the legend there is much that is reminiscent of Plato's account of creation, in the Timaeus, with its apportionments of the heavens among the stars and its delegation of the shaping of all save the souls of men to the Demiurge and the Star-Gods. Surely, there is sublimity in the Pawnee conception of Tirawa, in his abode above the circle of the heavens, passing his commands to the bright evening star, the Mother Star, mistress of the spirit garden of the West; of the Stars of the Quarters singing together their creative hymns; and of the Gods of the Elements, amid turmoil of cloud and wind and thunder and flame, shaping and fashioning the habitable globe, breathing the breath of life into stream and field, into physical. seed and spiritual understanding, and striking the earth with the fires of purification.



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