The Powers Above
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Even greater than the Wind Giant is the Thunderer, whom the Iroquois deemed to be the guardian of the Heavens, armed with a mighty bow and flaming arrows, hater and destroyer of all things noxious, and especially to be revered as having slain the great Serpent of the waters, which was devouring mankind. Hino is the Thunderer's name, and his bride is the Rainbow; he has many assistants, the lesser Thunderers, and among them the boy Gunnodoyah, who was once a mortal. Hino caught this youth up into his domain, armed him with a celestial bow, and sent him to encounter the great Serpent; but the Serpent devoured Gunnodoyah, who communicated his plight to Hino in a dream, whereupon the Thunderer and his warriors slew the Serpent and bore Gunnodoyah, still living, back to the Skies. Commonly the Thunderer is a friend to man; but men must not encroach upon his domain. The Cherokee tell a tale of "the Man who married the Thunder's sister": 17 lured by the maiden to the Thunder's cave, he is there surrounded by shape-shifting horrors, and when he declines to mount a serpent-steed saddled with a living turtle, Thunder grows angry, lightning flashes from his eye, and a terrific crash stretches the young brave senseless; when he revives and makes his way home, though it seems to him that he has been gone but a day, he discovers that his people have long given him up for dead; and, indeed, after this he survives only seven days.
One of Hino's assistants is Oshadagea, the great Dew Eagle, whose lodge is in the western sky and who carries a lake of dew in the hollow of his back. When the malevolent Fire Spirits are destroying Earth's verdure, Oshadagea flies abroad, and from his spreading wings falls the healing moisture. The Dew Eagle of the Iroquois is probably only the ghost of a Thunder-bird spirit, which has been replaced, among them, by Hino the Heavenly Archer. The Thunderbird is an invisible spirit; the lightning is the flashing of his eye; the thunder is the noise of his wings. He is surrounded by assistants, the lesser Thunderers, especially birds of the hawk-kind and of the eagle-kind; Keneu, the Golden Eagle, is his chief representative. If it were not for the Thunderers, the Indians say, the earth would become parched and the grass would wither and die. Père Le Jeune tells how, when a new altar-piece was installed in the Montagnais mission, the Indians, "seeing the Holy Spirit pictured as a dove surrounded by rays of light, asked if the bird was not the thunder; for they believe that the thunder is a bird; and when they see beautiful plumes, they ask if they are not the feathers of the thunder."
The domain above the clouds is the heaven of the Sun and the Moo and the Stars. The Sun is a man-being, the Moon a woman-being; sometimes they are brother and sister, some-times man and wife. The Montagnais told Père Le Jeune that the Moon appeared to be dark at times because she held her son in her arms: "`If the Moon has a son, she is married, or has been?' `Oh, yes, the Sun is her husband, who walks all day, and she all night; and if he be eclipsed or darkened, it is because the Moo Moon had their drawn bows app tell how a hunt; went in found his journeys Adekaga leaving also sometimes takes the son which he has had by into his arms.' Yes, but neither the Sun nor the s any arms.' `Thou hast no sense; they always hold n bows before them, and that is why their arms not appear"' Another Algonquian tribe, the Menominee, the Sun, armed with bow and arrows, departed for is sister, the Moon, alarmed by his long absence, search of him, and travelled twenty days before she . Ever since then the Moon has made twenty-day through the sky. The Iroquois say that the Sun, Adekagagwaa, rests in the southern skies during the winter, is "sleep spirit" to keep watch in his stead. On the s departure, he addresses the Earth, promising his eturn: "Earth, Great Mother, holding your children close to your breast, hear my power! I am Adekagagwaa!
I reign, and I rule all your lives! My field is broad where swift clouds race, and chase, and climb, and curl, and fall in rains to your rivers and streams. My shield is vast and covers your land with its yellow shine, or burns it brown with my hurrying flame. My eyes are wide, and search everywhere. My arrows are quick when I dip them in dews that nourish and breathe. My army is strong, when I sleep it watches my fields. When I come again my warriors will battle throughout the skies; Ga-oh will lock his fierce winds; Heno will soften his voice; Gohone [Winter] will fly, and tempests will war no more!"
The Indians know the poetry of the stars. It is odd to find the Iroquois telling the story of the celestial bear, precisely as it is told by the Eskimo of northern Greenland: how a group of hunters, with their faithful dog, led onward by the excitement of the chase, pursued the great beast high into the heavens, and there became fixed as the polar constellation (Ursa Major). In the story of the hunter and the Sky Elk the sentiment of love mingles with the passion of the chase. Sosondowah ("Great Night"), the hunter, pursued the Sky Elk, which had wandered down to Earth, far up into the heaven which is above the heaven of the Sun. There Dawn made him her captive, and set him as watchman before the door of her lodge. Looking down, he beheld and loved a mortal maiden; in the spring he descended to her under the form of a bluebird; in the summer he wooed her under the semblance of a blackbird; in the autumn, under the guise of a giant nighthawk, he bore her to the skies. But Dawn, angered at his delay, bound him before her door, and transforming the maiden into a star set her above his forehead, where he must long for her throughout all time without attaining her. The name of the star-maiden, which is the Morning Star, is Gendenwitha, "It Brings the Day. The Pleiades are called the Dancing Stars. They were a group of brothers who were awakened in the night by singing voices, to which they began to dance. As they danced, the voices receded, and they, following, were led, little by little, into the sky, where the pitying Moon transformed them into a group of fixed stars, and bade them dance for ten days each year over the Red Man's council-house; that being the season of his New Year. One of the dancing brothers, however, hearing the lamentations of his mother, looked backward; and immediately he fell with such force that he was buried in the earth. For a year the mother mourned over his grave, when there appeared from it a tiny sprout, which grew into a heaven-aspiring tree; and so was born the Pine, tallest of trees, the guide of the forest, the watcher of the skies.