Mythology Monday: The Iroquois Creation Myth

So, there’s this tendency that certain Americans have towards treating the indigenous peoples of North America as a kind of monoculture. This is, of course, not true: there were over 570 indigenous nations in the continental United States alone. At least, this was until white people came and kind of fucked everything up, as we are wont to do.
Which leads me into this Mythology Monday topic: the Iroquois creation myth.

Now, the Iroquois actually weren’t a single nation, but rather a confederacy of 5 (eventually 6) different but similar nations. Felt like I should probably mention that. Anyway, on with the story.

We start off with the world existing, but there not being any actual land, just a whole lot of water. There is, however, an island floating in the sky, which houses the aptly named Sky People. The Sky People are generally pretty happy, except for the fact that no one is ever born or dies, which means things are also kind of boring. The place is ruled over by a deity called the Great Spirt, or Ha-wen-ni-yu.

Ha-wen-ni-yu’s daughter, Ata-en-sic, or Sky Woman, gets pregnant, which pisses him off for some reason. So he does the only thing he can do: he pushes her off the island.

Now here’s where some confusion sets in for me: some versions of the myth that I found say her father pushed her, others that it was her husband. I’m gonna stick with father for this one, since that’s the one I saw the most.

Anyway, Ata-en-sic’s falling, but is caught by two birds just before she hits the water. They take her to meet some of their aquatic friends, since birds and water creatures are the only one there at the time, and they come to the conclusion that they’re going to need to bring up some land for her to live on. A bunch of creatures try to dive down and bring up some mud, but fail. Then a small toad tries, and actually manages to bring up some mud in his mouth. This is spread over the back of a giant turtle, and thus the continent of North America is born.

Eventually Ata-en-sic has twins, one good (Hah-gweh-di-yu) and one evil (Hä-qweh-da-ět-gǎh). Hah-gweh-di-yu is content to be born the normal way, but Hä-qweh-da-ět-gǎh decides to come out of his mother’s armpit. Which ends up killing her.

There’s a moment of grieving, and the two then decide to get creating.

Hah-gweh-di-yu sets about setting up some pretty awesome shit: rivers that run two ways full of boneless fish, the season of spring, as well as a whole bunch of useful animals for the people they’re about to create to hunt.
Hä-qweh-da-ět-gǎh, however, doesn’t really like this and sets about fucking that up for him, by forcing rivers to flow only one way, putting bones inside the fish, and creating winter.

This pisses Hah-gweh-di-yu off, so he goes off and fights Hä-qweh-da-ět-gǎh. Hah-gweh-di-yu wins, but since they’re both gods, he can’t actually kill him, so banishment it is. And that, friends, is why volcanoes exist: Hä-qweh-da-ět-gǎh’s pissed and needs to blow off some steam.

One thing I found interesting about this story is, of course, the turtle. Particularly because the “turtle holding up the world” thing isn’t unique to this culture. In Hindu mythology, for instance, the world is said to be on the back of four giant elephants which are on the back of, you guessed it, a turtle.

I dunno, I just think it’s neat that two completely different cultures a world away from each other could have such similar stories.

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