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The Sun And The Moon

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



The place of sunrise, according to the Bella Coola, is guarded by the Bear of Heaven, a fierce warrior, inspirer of martial zeal in man; and the place of sunset is marked by an enormous pillar which supports the sky. The trail of the Sun is a bridge as wide as the distance between the winter and summer solstices; in summer he walks on the right-hand side of the bridge, in winter on the left; the solstices are "where the sun sits down." Three guardians accompany the Sun on his course, dancing about him; but sometimes he drops his torch, and then an eclipse occurs.

Not many Pacific-Coast tribes have as definite a conception of the Sun as this, and generally speaking the orb of day is of less importance in the myths of the northern than in those of the southern stocks of the North-West. It is conceived both as a living being, which can even be slain, and as a material object a torch or a mask carried by a Sun-Bearer. One of the most wide-spread of North-Western legends is a Phaethon-like story of the Mink, son of the Sun, and his adventures with his father's burden, the sun-disk. A woman becomes pregnant from sitting in the Sun's rays; she gives birth to a boy, who grows with marvellous rapidity, and who, even before he can talk, indicates to his mother that he wants a bow and arrows; other children taunt him with having no father, but when his mother tells him that the Sun is his parent, he shoots his arrows into the sky until they form a ladder whereby he climbs to the Sun's house; the father requests the boy to relieve him of the sun-burden, and the boy, carelessly impatient, sweeps away the clouds and approaches the earth, which becomes too hot the ocean boils, the stones split, and all life is threatened; whereupon the Sun Father casts his offspring back to earth condemning him to take the form of the Mink. In some versions the heating of the world results in such a conflagration that those animal-beings who escape it, by betaking themselves to the sea, are transformed into the men who thereafter people the earth. It is obvious that in these myths we have a special North-Western form of the legend of the Son of the Sun who climbs to the sky, associated with the cataclysm which so frequently separates the Age of Animals from that of Man.

A curious Kwakiutl tradition tells of a Copper given up by the sea and accidentally turned so that the side bearing a pictured countenance lay downward; for ten days the sun failed to rise or shine: then the Copper was laid face upward, and the light again appeared. It would seem from this that copper is associated with the sun. Other myths tell of a hero who marries a copper woman, whose home an underworld or undersea mansion is also made of copper. The connexion of the bones of the dead with an abundance of food and mineral wealth would imply that the hero of this tale, Chief Wealthy, is a kind of Pluto. One of the most widely disseminated of North-Western legends, in which the Raven is usually the principal figure, tells of a time when darkness reigned throughout the world. The sun, or daylight, was kept imprisoned in a chest, under the jealous protection of a chieftain. The hero of the story realizes that daylight cannot be obtained by force, so he enters the womb of the chieftain's daughter when she comes to the spring for water; thence he is born, an infant insatiate until he gets possession of the precious box, from which the light is freed. A Salish version makes the Gull the guardian of the chest; the Raven wishes a thorn into the Gull's foot; then he demands light to draw the thorn; and thus day and light are created. Still another tale (which seems to be derived from the South-West) narrates how the Raven bored his way through the sky or persuaded the beings above to break it open, thus permitting sunlight to enter the world below.

The origin of fire is sometimes associated with the sun, as in a Salish account which tells how men lived "as in a dream" without fire until the Sun took pity upon them and gave it to them; but in very many North-Western myths the element is secured, curiously enough, from the ocean perhaps a reminiscence of submarine volcanoes. Thus another Salish story recounts how the Beaver and the Woodpecker stole fire from the Salmon and gave it to the ghosts; the Mink captured the head of the ghost-chief and received fire as its ransom. Possibly the salmon's red flesh may account for its connexion with the igneous element, but the most plausible explanation of the fire as the gift of the sea is in the popular tale which ascribes its theft to the stag. An old man had a daughter who owned a wonderful bow and arrow; in the navel of the ocean, a gigantic whirlpool, pieces of wood suitable for kindling were carried about, and when the daughter shot her arrows into this maelstrom the wood was cast ashore, and her father lit a huge fire and became its keeper; but the stag, concealing bark in his hair, entered by craft, lay down by the flame as if to dry him-self, caught the spark, and made off with the treasure.

The Sun and the Moon are sometimes described as husband and wife, and the Tlingit say that eclipses are caused by the wife visiting her husband. Again, they are the "eyes of heaven," and it is quite possible that the prominence of eyes and eyelashes in North-Western myth is associated primarily with these heavenly bodies. The Sun's rays are termed his eyelashes; one of the sky-beings recognized by the Haida is called Great Shining Heaven, and a row of little people is said to be suspended, head down, from his eyelashes. The Haida, Kwakiutl, and Tlingit believe that they see in the moon figure a girl with a bucket, carried thither by the Moon; and the Kwakiutl have also a legend of his descent to earth, where he made a rattle and a medicine lodge from an eagle's beak and jaw, and with the power so won created men, who built him a wonderful four-storeyed house, to be his servants. An interesting Tsimshian belief makes the Moon a kind of half-way house to the heavens, so that whoever would enter the sky-world must pass through the Home of the Moon. The Keeper of this abode is Pestilence, and with him are four hermaphrodite dwarfs. When the quester appears, he must cry out to the Keeper, "I wish to be made fair and sound"; then the dwarfs will call, " Come hither, come hither!" If he obeys them, they will kill him; but if he passes on, he is safe. A certain hero found his way to the Moon's House by the frequent mode of the arrow ladder, and was there made pure and white as snow. Finally the Keeper sent him back to the world, with the command : "Harken what you shall teach men when you return to Earth. I rejoice to see men upon the Earth, for otherwise there would be no one to pray to me or to honor me. I need and enjoy your worship. But when you undertake to do evil I will thwart you. Man and wife shall be true to one another; ye shall pray to me; and ye shall not look upon the Moon when attending to nature's needs. I rejoice in your smoke. Ye shall not spend the evening in riotous play. When you undertake to do what I forbid I will deny you." This revelation of the law is a truly primitive mixture of morality and tabu, based upon the do ut des relationship of god and man so succinctly expressed in a Haida prayer recorded by Swanton: "I give this to you for a whale; give one to me, Chief."



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