Native American Origin Myths
What is a Myth? • It is a traditional story that usually has a hero or heroine (main character) with supernatural powers. It is different from fairy tales because it seeks to explain a practice or belief the culture holds on to, or a natural phenomenon. • Myths are those accounts which portray the earliest possible time, including creation stories. Other myths account for the organization of the world and society, for instance how men and women were created and why they are different from one another.
Origin Myths • Are myths that explain how life began they include phenomena like: - Customs - Religious Rites - Natural Landmarks - Events beyond people’s control • Different tribes have different origin myths. The need to find a purpose and meaning in existence is a universal need.
In a nutshell • Myths are created to explain the unexplainable. • The first native American literary texts were offered orally, and they link the people with the plants and animals, the rivers and rocks, and all things believed significant in the life of America’s first people. The texts tie Indian people to the earth and its life through a spiritual kinship with the living and dead relatives of Native Americans. Coyote, raven, fox, hawk, turtle, rabbit and other animal characters in stories are considered by many Native Americans to be their relatives.
Basic Native American Beliefs • There were a few beliefs that were common to most Native Americans. All tribes had some sort of creation myth, which explained how they the world was made and what their place was in the world. [Some myths explained that tribes or families were descended from animal spirits - these animals became "totem animals" that protected your family.] Tribes believed that they had been given their land and the animals on it by the Creator. [That is why they did not want to be forced off their land.] They believed that the spirits of their ancestors watched over them.
Literary Terms What would be an example of an archetype? • Archetype - archetypes are universal symbols, motifs or themes that may be found among many different cultures. They recur in the myths of people worldwide. • Guerin, Wilfred L., et al. "Mythological and Archetypal Approaches." A Handbook of Critical Approaches toLiterature. NY: Harper & Row, 1979: 157-161
Examples of archetypes • Tree: denotes life of the cosmos; growth; proliferation; symbol of immortality • Water: birth-death-resurrection; creation; purification and redemption; fertility and growth. • Numbers: • 4 - associated with the circle, life cycle, four seasons; female principle, earth, nature, elements.
The Tree • Buddha received enlightenment sitting under a tree. • Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge and were expelled from Eden. • The Cedar Forest is the realm of the gods in The Epic of Gilgamesh.
Significance of the Tree to Native Americans • The tree links the three parts of the universe. The underworld is a dangerous place, the middle world is where humans dwell, and the sky world is where the powerful deities rule.
Afterlife • Some tribes believe in reincarnation where people could be reborn as a person or animal. Others believe that the spirit leaves for another world while others remain as ghosts.
Native Americans • They had a deep respect for nature and its interconnection to the world of spirit • Animals have spirits • THINK: What do these cultures value, believe to be important