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The Powers Below

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



As there are Powers above so are there Powers below. Earth herself is the eldest and most potent of these. Nokomis, "Grandmother," is her Algonquian name, but the Iroquois address her as Eithinoha, "Our Mother"; for, they say, "the earth is living matter, and the tender plantlet of the bean and the sprouting germ of the corn nestling therein receive through their delicate rootlets the life substance from the Earth. Earth, indeed, feeds itself to them; since what is supplied to them is living matter, life in them is produced and conserved, and as food the ripened corn and bean and their kinds, thus produced, create and develop the life of man and of all living things."

Earth's daughter, in Iroquois legend, is Onatah, the Corn Spirit 35 Once Onatah, who had gone in search of refreshing dews, was seized by the Spirit of Evil and imprisoned in his darkness under the Earth until the Sun found her and guided her back to the lost fields; never since has Onatah ventured abroad to look for the dews. The Iroquois story is thus a parallel of the Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone. The Chippewa, on the other hand, make of the Corn Spirit a heaven-sent youth, Mondamin, who is conquered and buried by a mortal hero: from his grave springs the gift of maize. Other food plants, such as the bean and the pumpkin, as well as wild plants and the various species of trees, have their several spirits, or Manitos; indeed, the world is alive with countless mysteries, of every strength and size, and the forest is all thronged with armies of Pukwudjies, the Indian's fairy folk "During a shower of rain thousands of them are sheltered in a flower. The Ojibwa, as he reclines beneath the shade of his forest trees, imagines these gods to be about him. He detects their tiny voices in the insect's hum. With half-closed eyes he beholds them sporting by thousands on a sun-ray."

The Iroquois recognize three tribes of Jogaoh, or Dwarf People: the Gahonga, of the rocks and rivers, whom the Indians call "Stone Throwers" because of their great strength and their fondness for playing with stones as with balls; the Gandayah, who have a care for the fruitfulness not only of the land — for they fashion "dewcup charms" which attract the grains and fruits and cause them to sprout, — but also of the water, where they release captive fish from the trap when the fishermen too rapaciously pursue; and the Ohdowas, or underground people. The underworld where the Ohdowas live is a dim and sunless realm containing forests and plains, like the earth of man, peopled with many animals—all of which are ever desirous to ascend to the sunny realm above. It is the task of the Ohdowas to keep these underworld creatures in their proper place, especially since many of them are venomous and noxious beasts; and though the Ohdowas are small, they are sturdy and brave, and for the most part keep the monstrous beings imprisoned; rarely do the latter break through to devastate and defile the world above. As there are under-earth people, so are there underwater people who, like the Fire-People of the Eskimo, are divided into two tribes, one helpful, one hurtful to man. These underwater beings are human in form, and have houses, like those of men, beneath the waters; but they dress in snake's skins and wear horns. Sometimes their beautiful daughters lure mortal men down into the depths, to don the snake-skin costume and to be lost to their kindred forever.

Of monstrous beings, inhabiting partly the earth's surface, partly the underworld, the Iroquois recognize in particular the race of Great Heads 37 and the race of Stone Giants. The Great Heads are gifted with penetrating eyes and provided with abundant hair which serves them as wings; they ride on the tempest, and in their destructive and malevolent powers seem to be personifications of the storm, perhaps of the tornado. In one tale, which may be the detritus of an ancient and crude cosmogony, the Great Head obviously plays the rôle of a demiurge; and a curious story tells of the destruction of one of the tribe which pursued a young woman into her lodge and seeing her parching chestnuts concluded that coals of fire were good to eat; partaking of the coals, it died. These bizarre creatures are well calculated to spice a tale with terrors.

The Iroquoian Stone Giants, as well as their congeners among the Algonquians (e. g. the Chenoo of the Abnaki and Micmac), belong to a wide-spread group of mythic beings of which the Eskimo Tornit are examples. They are powerful magicians, huge in stature, unacquainted with the bow, and employing stones for weapons. In awesome combats they fight one another, uprooting the tallest trees for weapons and rending the earth in their fury. Occasionally, they are tamed by men and, as they are mighty hunters, they become useful friends. Commonly they are depicted as cannibals; and it may well be that this far-remembered mythic people is a reminiscence, coloured by time, of backward tribes, unacquainted with the bow, and long since destroyed by the Indians of historic times. Of course, if there be such an historic element in these myths, it is coloured and overlaid by wholly mythic conceptions of stone-armoured Titans or demiurges (see Ch. III, i, ii).



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