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The Son Of The Sun

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



The story of a woman of the primitive period ascending to the sky-world; of her marriage with a celestial god, son of the Sun Father; of her breaking a prohibition; and of her fall to earth, where a boy, or twin boys, is born to her; and tales of the future deeds of the son of the sky-god — all this is common, in part or in whole, to many tribes and to all regions of the American continent. Indeed, it has obvious affinities to world-wide myths of a similar type, of which Jack and the Beanstalk is the familiar example in English folk-lore.

The Iroquoian cosmogonic tale of the Titaness who is cast down from heaven to the waters of primeval chaos is a part of this mythic cycle, but it does not tell of the previous ascent of the woman into the sky-world. The beautiful and poetic Blackfoot tale of Poïa, the son of the girl who married the Morning Star, is a more complete version of the myth — or perhaps a transformation of the legend, for here it is no longer, as with the Iroquois, a cosmogony, but the tale of a culture hero. In different tribes it shifts from one character to the other — world origins and civilization origins — but in the main its central event seems to be the bringing of a golden treasure from the sky-world by a wonderful boy who becomes a teacher of mankind — a son of the Sun bringing to earth a knowledge of the Medicine of Heaven.

The Skidi Pawnee narrate the story almost exactly in its Blackfoot form, although they do not tell of the poetical translation to and from the heavens by means of a spider's web; but the Arikara, in their version of the "Girl Who Married a Star," give an account of this journey, which is by climbing an ever-growing tree that at last penetrates the sky-world --a means known not only to Jack of beanstalk fame, but to many another tale of the Old and the New Hemispheres. It is in this form that the story is known to several tribes — Arapaho, Crow, Kiowa, Assiniboin.

The events of the legend, as told in the very perfect Arapaho version, begin with the sky-world family: "their tipi was formed by the daylight, and the entrance-door was the sun." Here lived a Man and a Woman and their two boys — Sun and Moon. In search of wives the youths go along Eagle River, which runs east and west, the older brother, Sun, travelling down the stream; the younger, Moon, in the opposite direction. Sun takes for his wife a water animal, the Toad; but Moon decides to marry a mortal woman, and when he sees two girls in the field, he turns himself into a porcupine and climbs a tree. One of the girls starts to follow the animal up the tree, but it keeps ascending, and the tree continues growing. Finally the sky is pierced, and Moon, resuming the form of a young man, takes the girl to wife in the sky-world lodge. There a son is born to her. Meanwhile the father of Sun and Moon has presented his daughter-in-law with a digging stick, but her husband forbids her to dig a certain withered plant. Out of curiosity she disobeys and uncovers a hole through which she looks down upon the camp circle of her people. She under takes to descend by means of a sinew rope, but just before she reaches earth with her son, Moon throws a stone, called Heated Stone, after her, saying, "I shall have to make her return to me" — a remark which, the Indians declare, shows that there is another place for dead people, the sky-world. The woman is killed by the stone, but the boy is uninjured. At first he is nourished from the breasts of his dead mother; but afterward he is found and cared for by Old Woman Night, who had come to the spot. "Well, well!" she says to him, "Are you Little Star? I am so happy to meet you. This is the central spot which everybody comes to. It is the terminus of all trails from all directions. I have a little tipi down on the north side of the river, and I want you to come with me. It is only a short distance from here. Come on, grandchild, Little Star." The old woman made bow and arrows for Little Star, and with these he slew a horned creature with blazing eyes which proved to have been the husband of Night. She transformed the bow into a lance, and with this he began to kill the serpents which infested the world. While he was sleeping on the prairie, however, a snake entered his body and coiled itself in his skull. All the flesh fell from him, but his bones still held together, and "in this condition he gave his image to the people as a cross." Sense had not altogether deserted him; he prayed for two days of torrential rain and two of intense heat; and when these had passed the serpent thrust its panting head out of his mouth, whereupon he pulled it forth, and was restored to his living form. The reptile's skin he affixed to his lance, and thus equipped returned to the black lodge of Night, where he became the morning star.

In other versions — Crow, Kiowa — the Sun, not the Moon, is the celestial husband; and the porcupine, with his beautiful quills, would seem to be more appropriately an embodiment of the orb of day. The tabued plant, which the wife digs, appears as a constant feature in nearly every variant. That there is close association with the buffalo is indicated by the fact that a buffalo chip (dried dung of the buffalo) is substituted in the Crow story, and that in the Kiowa the tabu is a plant whose top had been bitten off by that animal. The Kiowa version gives the interesting variation that the boy, who is adopted in this instance by Spider Woman, the earth goddess, is split into twins by a gaming wheel (a sun-symbol) which he throws into the air. The story goes on with the drowning of one of the twins by water monsters, while the other trans-formed himself into "medicine," and in this shape gave him-self to the Kiowa as the pledge and guardian of their national existence.



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