Friday, 6 February 2015

Creation Mythology: South America

Today we are going to explore the creation myths of South America.  South America is the fourth largest continent in the world and its mythology is diverse and vast.  Here we will look at the creation myths of Mesoamerica and some of the tribes which can be found throughout the region.

The Mayan civilization lasted from around 500BC to 1200AD.  The creation myth of the Mayans can be found in the ancient hieroglyphic Popol Vuh, meaning Book of Counsel, Book of the Community, or Book of the People.  The following myth tells of how Tepeu and Gucumatz created the world through conversation with one another.
Mayan Creation Myth by TheK40*
How Tepeu and Gucumatz Made the World

This is the account of how all was in suspense, all calm, in silence, all motionless, still, and the expanse of the sky was empty.
This is the first account, the first narrative.  There was neither man, nor animal, birds, fishes, crabs, trees, stones, caves, ravines, grasses, nor forests; there was only the sky.
The surface of the earth had not appeared.  There was only the calm sea and the great expanse of the sky.
There was nothing brought together, nothing which could make a noise, nor anything which might move, or tremble, or could make noise in the sky.
There was nothing standing; only the calm water, the placid sea, alone and tranquil.  Nothing existed.
Gucumatz by Ranubis
There was only immobility and silence in the darkness, in the night.  Only the Creator, the Maker, Tepeu, Gucumatz, the Forefathers, were in the water surrounded by light.  They were hidden under green and blue feathers, and were therefore called Gucumatz.  By nature they were great sages and great thinkers.  In this manner the sky existed and also the Heart of Heaven, which is the name of God and thus He is called.

Then came the word.  Tepeu and Gucumatz came together in the darkness, in the night, and Tepeu and Gucumatz talked together.  They talked then, discussing and deliberating; they agreed, they united their words and their thoughts.
Then while they meditated, it became clear to them that when dawn would break, man must appear.  Then they planned the creation, and the growth of the trees and the thickets and the birth of life and the creation of man.  Thus it was arranged in the darkness and in the night by the Heart of Heaven who is called Huracan.
Huracan: Heart of Sky by Jack Feldman
The first is called Caculha Huracin.  The second in Chipi-Caculha.  The third is Raxa-Caculha.  And these three are the Heart of Heaven.

Then Tepeu and Gucumatz came together; then they conferred about life and light, what they would do so that there would be light and dawn, who it would be who would provide food and sustenance.
Thus let it be done!  Let the emptiness be filled.  Let the water recede and make a void, let the earth appear and become solid; let it be done.  Thus they spoke.  Let there be light, let there be dawn in the sky and on the earth!  There shall be neither glory nor grandeur in our creation and formation until the human being is made, man is formed.  So they spoke.
Then the earth was created by them.  So it was, in truth, that they created the earth.  Earth!  they said, and instantly it was made.
Like the mist, like a cloud, and like a cloud of dust was the creation, when the mountains appeared from the water, and instantly the mountains grew.
Only by a miracle, only by magic art were the mountains and valleys formed; and instantly the groves of cypresses and pines put forth shoots together on the surface of the earth.

The Heart of Earth by belezr
And thus Gucumatz was filled with joy, and exclaimed: ‘Your coming has been fruitful, Heart of Heaven; and you, Huracan, and you, Chipi-Caculha, Raxa-Caculha!’ ‘Our work, our creation shall be finished,’ they answered.
First the earth was formed, the mountains and the valleys, the currents of water were divided, the rivulets were running freely between the hills, and the water was separated when the high mountains appeared.
Thus was the earth created, when it was formed by the Heart of Heaven, the Heart of Earth, as they are called who first made it fruitful, when the sky was in suspense, and the earth was submerged in the water.
So it was that they made perfect the work, when they did it after thinking and meditating upon it.

Several creation stories can be found in Aztec mythology, with some originating from early Mexica and others from other Mesoamericans.  The most well known, however, is the story of the Five Suns.  It tells of how the battles for supremacy between the brothers Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl brought about both the destruction of the first four suns and the creation of the fifth sun.

Ometeotl by rainbow-country-crew
The Creation of the World – The Five Suns

In the beginning there was Ometeotl, the Creator Pair, or the Lord and Lady of Duality.  The male and female aspects of Ometeotl coupled and from their union brought forth Texcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl. 
During the time of the First Sun, giants roamed the Earth, eating rocks and acorns, and Tezcatlipoca ruled supreme.  He took it upon himself the honor of carrying the Sun on its daily journey through the heavens, lighting the sky above and the Earth below.  With great pride, he daily led the Sun in its fiery, celestial path.
Quetzalcoatl was jealous of Tezcatlipoca and his great honor.  In a terrible fit of anger he climbed into the sky and gave Tezcatlipoca a mighty blow.  The blow stunned Tezcatlipoca, and he fell tumbling from the sky.  As he crashed to Earth, Tezcatlipoca transformed himself into his sacred animal spirit, the jaguar.  As the jaguar, he destroyed all living creatures on the Earth.  The time of the First Sun of the Earth came to an end, and darkness covered the Earth.  The Aztecs marked this day of the Earth’s first destruction with the name 4 Jaguar.
z9 Tezcatlipoca by SHiNiGAMi-Xiii*
Quetzalcoatl now reigned supreme.  It was his divine honor to lead the Sun on its daily journey to defeat the powers of darkness on the Earth.  The Earth existed again for a second time – the time of the Second Sun.  During this time, the Earth was populated with monkeys who existed on pine nuts.
Now, it was Tezcatlipoca’s turn to be jealous.  He was determined to regain his dominance over Quetzalcoatl.  It was Tezcatlipoca this time who rose into the sky and delivered a smashing blow to Quetzalcoatl.  Quetzalcoatl could not survive the blow and came roaring to Earth with such force that a great windstorm destroyed all living creatures.  For the second time, the age of the Sun had ended with the destruction of the Earth.  The Aztec called this day 4 Wind.
Quetzalcoatl by vandervals
The gods were angry at this destructive battle between Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca.  They decided that another god should have the honor of carrying the Sun across the sky.  They chose the rain god Tlaloc.  Tlaloc ruled supreme during this third creation of the Earth.  His fall of nourishing waters brought back life to the Earth, covering it with rivers, lakes, and oceans.

This time, both Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca began to plot against Tlaloc.  Together they attached Tlaloc and caused a fierce rain of celestial fire to fall on the Earth.  The time of the Third Sun ended in the destruction of the Earth by scorching fire.  The Aztecs marked the end of this third age of the Sun with the name 4 Rain.
Once again, the gods intervened to recreate the Earth.  During this time of the Fourth Sun, Tlaloc’s sister, the god Chalchiuhtlicue, the Goddess of Water, fell to the Earth, the sky opened up
Tlaloc by Kamazotz
with a deluge of heavenly waters.  A great flood covered the Earth and destroyed it for a fourth time.  The Aztecs marked this day with the name 4 Water.

After fourth destruction of the Earth, Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca felt remorse for their battles.  Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl looked down upon the darkened and flooded Earth and knew that their time of battle must come to an end if there was to be another Sun.  They abandoned their fierce fighting and together created the Earth for a fifth time.  The Fifth Sun, the sun of motion, is the sun of our present age.  According to this Aztec myth, the age of the Fifth Sun will one day end in a cataclysm of earthquakes.

The Inca established their capital at Cuzco, Peru in the 12th century.  Their creation story tells of Viracocha, also spelled Huiracocha or Wirapoca, the creator deity who made the sun and moon on Lake Titicaca.

Viracocha and his son Inti by MaycuryDealor
Children of the Sun

Viracocha emerged into the primal dark from the sacred waters of Lake Titicaca.  He created a race of giants, but they angered him, so he drowned them and turned them to stone.  Next he called the sun, the moon, and the stars out of the Island of the Sun in the centre of the lake.  He picked up stones by the lakeside and shaped these into the first man and women, painting them with clothes, and giving each nation its own language, songs, and foods.  Viracocha and his sons travelled among the peoples, teaching them how to live, before walking away across the Pacific Ocean.

Among the Keres speaking Pueblo people of southwestern America, the original creator was Sus’sistinako, or Thinking Woman, the spider.  In some versions she creates the world from a discarded clot of blood and in others from her own thoughts.

Thinking Woman

The Pueblo's Spider Woman - Artist Unknown
At first there was only one being, a spider called Sus’sistinako, meaning ‘Thinking Woman’.  Sussistinako sent her thoughts outward into space, and used them to weave the fabric of the universe.  Beneath the Earth she placed Iatiku the Corn Mother, also known as ‘the breath of life’.  It was Iatiku who created all the elements that make up the world – even fun, in the shape of the clown Koshare, whom she shaped from rubbings of her skin in order to make people laugh.
Iatiku had two aspects: one who remained underground, and to whom the dead returned; and another who travelled up to the world, bringing the gift of life.  She had two daughters, to whom she gave baskets filled with seeds and images.  They were to use these to bring life into the world.
The first daughter was named Iatiku, after her mother, because they so closely resembled one another.  The second daughter was not given a name.
The two daughters travelled up to the Earth, and when they emerged, the world was still dark, so they decided to create light.  Singing a creation song, they created the sun from shells and red stone, then they travelled east, carried the sun up a high mountain, and dropped it over the other side.  The next morning the sun rose for the first time.

Iatiku and her sister continued to scatter the seeds and images from their baskets, and each thing came alive as it fell.  They made the moon, and then the stars, which were all in perfect groups until a little girl peeped into the bundle of stars and let them out, scattering them randomly across the sky. Iatiku noticed that her sister’s basket was more richly filled than her own, so she decided to name her sister ‘Nautsiti’, meaning ‘more everything in her basket’.  The two sisters then held a contest to see which of them should have precedence in the world.  Iatiku won because Thinking Woman sat on her shoulder in spider form and whispered to her, telling her what to do.  As the victor, Iatiku stayed to become the mother of the Indians, while Nautsiti went away, to become the mother of the whites.

The Huitoto or Uitoto Indians can be found deep in the Peruvian Amazon.  They tell the following ex nihilo myth of how Father Naimuena created the world from dreams.

Father Naimuena Creates the World

In the beginning, the word gave origin to the Father.  A phantasm, nothing else existed in the beginning; the Father touched an illusion, he grasped something mysterious.  Nothing existed.  Through the agency of a dream our Father Naimuena kept the mirage to his body, and he pondered long and thought deeply.
Phantasm by JoeyJazz
Nothing existed, not even a stick to support the vision: our Father attached the illusion to the thread of a dream and kept it by the aid of his breath.  He sounded to reach the bottom of the appearance, but there was nothing.  Nothing existed indeed. Then the Father again investigated the bottom of the mystery.  He tied the empty illusion to the dream thread and pressed the magical substance upon it.  Thus by the aid of his dream he held it like a wisp of raw cotton.
Then he seized the mirage bottom and stamped upon it repeatedly, sitting down at last on his dreamed earth.
The earth-phantasm was now his, and he spat out saliva repeatedly so that the forests might grow.  Then he lay down upon his earth and covered it with the roof of heaven.  As he was the owner of the earth he placed above it the blue and the white sky.
Thereupon Rafuema, ‘the man who has the narratives,’ sitting at the base of the heavens, pondered, and he created this story so that we might listen to it here upon the earth.

The Pima can be found in the deserts of southern Arizona.  They tell the following ex nihilo myth of Juhwertamahkai, the Doctor of the Earth, who creates the earth from perspiration and people from the shadow of his eyes.

The Story of the Creation

In the beginning there was no earth, no water – nothing.  There was only a Person, ‘Juh-wert-a-Mah-kai (The Doctor of the Earth).
He just floated, for there was no place for him to stand upon.  There was no sun, no light, and he just floated about in the darkness, which was Darkness itself.
hold on by butterflycollector
He wandered around in nowhere till he thought he had wandered enough.  Then he rubbed on his breast and rubbed out ‘moah-haht-tack’, that is perspiration, or greasy earth.  This he rubbed out on the palm of his hand and held out.  He tipped over three times, but the fourth time it staid straight in the middle of the air and there it remains now as the world.

The first bush he created was the greasewood bush.
And he made ants, little tiny ants, to live on that bush, on its gum which comes out of its stem.
But these little ants did not do any good, so he created white ants, and these worked and enlarged the earth; and they kept on increasing it, larger and larger, until at last it was big enough for himself to rest on.
Then he created a Person.  He made him out of his eye, out of the shadow of his eyes, to assist him, to be like him, and to help him in creating trees and human beings and everything that was to be on the earth.
The name of this being was ‘Noo-ee’ (the Buzzard).
Nooee was given all power, but he did not do the work he was created for.  He did not care to help Juhwertmahkai, but let him go on by himself.
And so the Doctor of the Earth himself created the mountains and everything that has seed and is good to eat.  For if he had created human beings first they would have had nothing to live on.
But after making Nooee and before making mountains and seed for food, Johwertamahkai made the sun.
In order to make the sun he first made water, and this he placed in a hollow vessel, like an earthen dish (‘hwas-hah-ah’) to harden into something like ice.  And this hardened ball he placed in the sky.  First he placed it in the North, but it did not work; then he placed it in the West, but it did not work; then he placed it in the South, but it did not work; then he placed it in the East and there it worked as he wanted it to.
And the moon he made in the same way and tried in the same places, with the same results.
Diamonds In The Sky by Mizth
But when he made the stars he took the water in his mouth and spurted it up into the sky.  But the first night his stars did not give light enough.  So he took the Doctor-stone (diamond), the ‘tone-dum-haw-the’, and smashed it up, and took the pieces and threw them into the sky to mix with the water in the stars, and then there was light enough.

And now Juhwertamahkai, rubbed again on his breast, and from the substance he obtained there made two little dolls, and these he laid on the earth.  And they were human beings, man and woman.
And now for a time the people increased till they filled the earth.  For the first parents were perfect, and there was no sickness and no death.  But when the earth was full, then there was nothing to eat, so they killed and ate each other.
But Juhwertamahkai did not like the way his people acted, to kill and eat each other, and so he let the sky fail to kill them.  But when the sky dropped he, himself, took a staff and broke a hole thru, thru which he and Nooee emerged and escaped, leaving behind them all the people dead.
And Juhwertamahkai, being now on the top of this fallen sky, again made a man and a woman, in the same way as before.  But this man and woman became grey when old and their children became grey still younger, and their children became grey younger still, and so on till the babies were grey in their cradles.
And Juhwertamahkai, who had made a new earth and sky, just as there had been before, did not like his people becoming grey in their cradles, so he let the sky fall on them again, and again made a hole and escaped, with Nooee, as before.
And Juhwertamahkai, on top of this second sky, again made a new heaven and a new earth, just as he had done before, and new people.
But these new people made a vice of smoking.  Before human beings had never smoked till they were old, but now they smoked younger, and each generation still younger, till the infants wanted to smoke in their cradles.
The Sky Is Falling by gamesandgigs
And Juhwertamahkai did not like this, and let the sky fall again, and created everything new again in the same way, and this time he created the earth as it is now.

But as first the whole slope of the world was westward, and tho there were peaks rising from this slope there were no true valleys, and all the water that fell ran  away and there was no water for the people to drink.  So Juhwertamahkai sent Nooee to fly around among the mountains, and over the earth, to cut valleys with his wings, so that the water could be caught and distributed and there might be enough for the people to drink.
Now the sun was male and the moon was female and they met once a month.  And the moon became a mother and went to a mountain called ‘Tahs-my-et-than Tow-ahk’ (sun striking mountain) and there was born her baby.  But she had duties to attend to, to turn around and give light, so she made a
Coyote by RichardatUK
place for the child by tramping down the weedy bushes and there left it.  And the child, having no milk, was nourished on the earth.

And this child was the coyote, and as he grew he went out to walk and in his walk came to the house of Juhwertamahkai and Nooee, where they lived.
And when he came there Juhwertamahkai knew him and called him ‘Toe-hahvs’, because he was laid on the weedy bushes of that name.
But now out of the North came another powerful personage, who has two names, ‘See-ur-huh’ and ‘Ee-ee-toy’.
Now Seeurhuh means older brother, and when this personage came to Juhwertamahkai, Nooee and Toehahvs he called them his younger brothers.  But they claimed to have been here first, and to be older than he, and there was a dispute between them.  But finally, because he insisted so strongly, and just to please him, they let him be called older brother.

The Sanema people live in the upper Caura region of Venezuela and tell this creation myth of Omao who creates people from wood.

Once there lived Curare-woman and Original Jaguar.  Jaguar was very fond of meat and one day he caught Waipili the frog.  Jaguar made Curare-woman cut up Waipili and Jaguar ate the frog up.  But Curare-woman saved two tadpoles called Omao and Soawe and hid them in a pot. 
Curare-woman kept Omao and Soawe safe from Jaguar.  Omao and Soawe grew fast, but Original Jaguar was still a danger.  Then one day, by some clever tricks, Omao was able to fool Jaguar into climbing a tree, which, when released from the hold of a vine, threw Jaguar up into the air.  He fell to the ground and was killed.
Omao was very hungry because he did not know how to grow yuca.  Only Lalagi-gi, the cosmic anaconda, knew how to grow the plants.  Although Omao was very frightened of the giant anaconda, he wanted to learn how to grow yuca.  So he gave some meat to the snake and in return Lalagi-gi brought yuca cuttings, yams, maize, and other things.  If it had not been for Lalagi-gi, people would not have learned how to grow crops.
It was long, long ago when Omao created the Sanema ancestors.  He decided to use hardwood trees.  But Omao had great difficulty in finding them, so he asked his brother, Soawe, to help.  Soawe was lazy.  Instead of hardwood trees, he cut down softwood trees.  When Omao returned, he was very angry.  ‘I was going to make humans from the hardwood trees,’ he said.  ‘Then they could live
Yellow-knobbed Curassow by gracek
forever, just casting off their old skins.  I was going to make the anacondas from softwood trees, so they would be weak and die young.’  Omao made the Sanema from the softwood trees, which is why people are weak and do not live forever.  Then he made the anacondas from the tough bark of the hardwood trees, which is why anacondas shed their skins and live for a very long time.  Omao was still so angry that he left the world.  He went down the river, to the bottom of the sky.

It was night when the animal and Sanema ancestors appeared.  Sunrise did not come.  The great curassow bird cried out all night – and still dawn did not come.  The ancestors realized that it was the curassow bird that stopped the dawn, so they shot the bird with arrows.  The feathers of the dying bird fell and transformed into all the birds that now live in the forest.
And then the dawn came.


Useful Resources

The Oxford Companion to World Mythology by David Leeming
The Eagle on the Cactus: Traditional Stories from Mexico by Angel Vigil
DK Eyewitness Companions: Mythology by Philip Wilkinson & Neil Philip
Aw-aw-tam Indian Nights (Myths and Legends of the Pima_ by J. William Lloyd
Yanomamo Sanema Creation Story

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