Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Comparing Native American and Gnostic Myth-Making

Michael Howard
July 2003

I got interested in this subject doing research on something else, namely, Jung’s Symbols of Transformation. Jung organized his book around the published fantasies of a young American woman named Frank Miller. Her main source was Longfellow’s long poem Hiawatha. Longfellow’s main source was accounts of Indian myth by Schoolcraft (1851-1857; 1992, originally 1839) who was with the Ojibwas of Minnesota in the 1820’s. He also wrote about the Iroquois and made generalizations about the Native Americans of the eastern United States; it is these that struck me in relation to Gnosticism.

A. Schoolcraft’s account of Iroquois myth, in relation to orthodox Christianity and Gnosticism

Schoolcraft reports that the Indians had no temples, yet all believed in a Great Spirit in rocks, trees, cataracts, and clouds; he “inhabits and animates everything” (15). But he conceals himself “in titular deities from human gaze, as birds and quadrupeds. The Indians adore the sun as the image of the Great Spirit. Yet their belief is also dualistic: as well as a benign type of deity, there is the malign type, which also occurs everywhere” (16). Schoolcraft compares the Indians’ views to Zoroastrianism, with its Good and Evil principles, both arising from a principle transcending both. The Iroquois have two principles of Good and Evil, Inigorio the Good Mind, and Inigohahetgea, the Evil mind. Both come to be at creation, yet both are subordinate to the Great Spirit (32). The duality exists in the soul itself, which is a battleground between the two principles for mastery over the mind (33)

Similar to the Pythagoreans, Schoolcraft points out, the Algonquins believe in metempsychosis, the transmigration of souls (33). The soul is immortal, but a vital spark passes from one body to another. “The superior will of the individual, as a spiritually possessed person, himself determined the fate of his future life” (33). Others believed future happiness was available to all, at least those who maintained the respect of their dead ancestors: there was a happy dancing ground at death, where the deceased sing and dance with all their lost relatives.

Schoolcraft describes also the belief in Manitos, spirits that can attach themselves to individuals, either to protect or to harm. These are believed accessed through fasting, dreams, and trances induced by dancing or other means.

The Great Merciful Spirit overall has benevolence and pity, but does not “take upon himself a righteous administration of the world’s affairs but on the contrary, leaves it to be filled, and its affairs, in reality, governed, by demons and fiends in human form.” Thus the native sees the world as an unending scene of discord and is left in a perpetual state of fear (35).

All of this has a marked similarity to the ancient Gnostics, who also mythologized about an Unknown God who did not interfere in the workings of lower realms, but suffers with humanity in silence. Sometimes the Gnostics, like the Native Americans Schoolcraft studied, spoke of this Father as supremely good, and other times as being above such human categories altogether. Similarly, the Gnostics spoke about reincarnation for those not of sufficient gnosis, knowledge, to merit escape from “the great wheel” of becoming. The Gnostics, too, had opposing principles--the good spirit within is the Christ, who opens us to knowledge of ourselves. There are also numerous harmful ones, the archons or authorities, the planetary powers corresponding to the seven deadly sins of Roman Catholicism. There is Satan, “prince of this world,” with his host of demons. And there are numerous others, varying from source to source, inner forces to be honored and propitiated, perhaps with an outer reality as well.

While parallels can be drawn to orthodox Christianity, there is more similarity between Native American belief and that of the Gnostics. A clear example is the myth of the feminine spiritual principle. As Schoolcraft relates (317), for the Iroquois, the beginning of creative power is in the upper regions. First is Neo, the Great Spirit of Life. Then comes Atahocan, the master of heaven. Tarenyawagon, identical with the Great Hare, is called the keeper of the Heavens. Agreaokoe is the god of war. Atahentsic is the woman of heaven. The beginning of the creation, and of humanity, is connected with her history. One of the six of the original number of created men of heaven became enamored of her. Atahocan, having discovered this amour, cast her out headlong to the earth. She was received below on the back of a great turtle lying on the waters. The tortoise expanded more and more, and finally became the earth. Atahentsic had a daughter, who herself became pregnant although there were no men on earth. She bore two sons, Yaskekea and Thoitsoron, but died giving birth to the second one. Yaskekea then killed his brother.

But we should not suppose that in killing his brother, Yaskekea did wrong. Another source, Brinton (1882) says that the second brother was of a flint or fire-stone nature, and his sharpness, plus his refusal to be born through the birth canal, is what killed his mother. Yaskekea, who learned of this from his mother’s spirit, simply was avenging his mother’s death. After that, Atahentsic, his grandmother, resigned the government of the world to him. Yaskekea became the sun, and grandmother Atahentsic the moon. Her daughter, who died in childbirth, was buried; her body turned into various beneficial plants: “From her head grew the pumpkin vine; from her breast, the maize; from her limbs, the bean and other useful esculents,” Brinton relates (55).

Schoolcraft does not see this myth as particularly Christian; instead, he characterizes it as “Zoroastroism combined with the idolatry of the ‘Queen of Heaven’” (317). We know what he means by Zoroastroism: the two brothers, one good and the other evil. But what is this so-called “idolatry of the ‘Queen of Heaven’”? Schoolcraft might be referring to the Roman Catholic cult of the Virgin Mary, who especially in the Middle Ages was viewed as an immaculately conceived, hence divine, immortal who ascends to Heaven after giving birth to Jesus and sits next to him on the throne. But the parallel with the Gnostic myth of Sophia is even more evident. Sophia is the youngest of the created immortal aeons, who likewise is cast out of heaven, although not for engendering discord and jealousy but because she moved out of her appointed place in an attempt to reach the heights of the Unknown Father. A part of her returns there, corresponding to Grandmother Moon, while a part of her remains in our world, injecting her spirit into matter. In one version she is said to have a daughter, Zoe, who remains on earth. This is an apt name for the Moon’s daughter, the one whose body turned into useful plants; she is the spirit-force that Native Americans found in all things.

B. Comparing Schoolcraft with other sources.

These parallels between Native American myth and Gnosticism are striking, but I wanted to investigate further. These stories were told by members of a conquered race to one of the conqueror race. When a myth is told to a white person, I wondered, is the whole story told? Are certain parts left out which the Native knows from experience gets the White upset with him? And are the parts that remain slanted to be more acceptable to the White?

I looked to other accounts of Native American mythology. I discovered that the high god who is remote from the world is found in such inhospitable places as Tierra del Fuego, with a culture thought to have been unchanged for 8000 years (Hultkrantz 1979). Perhaps because this god was so different from the Christian God--he is not a creator-god--and plays no role in their rituals, they did not tell the missionaries, who remained quite ignorant of their beliefs. Darwin, interviewing them in his travels, concluded with many others that these natives had no religion at all. The Algonquins, scholars today confirm, also believed in a high god who left creation to others, reported by even the earliest French missionaries (Hultkranz 1979). Sometimes the shamans know about this god but not the ordinary person. The ordinary person thinks of the helpful and harmful deities, much as the ordinary white thinks about God and the Devil. So perhaps we should say that for the shamans and those whom they confided in, there is a parallel between Gnosticism and Native American belief.

Natalie Curtis, in The Indians’ Book (1907), says that the proper term for the Native highest deity is not God, but rather “the Great Mystery” (xiv). This is quite close to some Gnostics texts, for example the Pistis Sophia’s designation “the first mystery.” The point for Gnostics is that the highest god is beyond human categories, even that of existence and non-existence.

Spiritual medicine, the kind that shamans practice, was called “the Little Mystery.” This name acknowledges the spirit within matter which the shaman consciously tries to move

Now for the opposing principles, the good and evil brothers. This is where most scholars today feel Christianity has intruded, with its stories of Cain and Abel and Christ and the Devil. The proper terms are not “evil” per se, but more “beneficial to man” and “harmful to man,” in an unconscious way, the way nature can be harmful (Krickeberg et al 1969). We can see this in the characterization of the brother who is killed: he did not kill his mother out of any impulse than impatience to be born, yet the hero slays him. Harmful to man, rather than evil, is similar to the way the Gnostics characterized the archons, as ignorant fools. Some Native American spirit-entities can go either way, depending on the shaman’s power over them. Similarly the archons can rule us or be ruled by us, depending on our knowledge of them.

As for Native American beliefs around reincarnation, it appears that there are two souls. One is immobile in sleep and dies with the body (Hultkrantz 1988). The other is the “free soul,” which can roam at will and sometimes gets caught in the underworld and needs the help of a shaman to get out. This soul is the one that is immortal and can be reincarnated. It may also go beyond this world through various pathways and wind up in various places, e.g. the upper world or the lower world depending on the path it took (Hultkrantz 1979). This mythology is quite similar to Gnosticism, which talks of the soul’s journey after death, e.g. in the Gospel of Mary and a “discrimination of the natures,” the object of which is to leave the lower parts of the soul behind (in Irenaeus’s paraphrase of Basilides, Bqrnstone 1984).

So far the various modifications that need to be made to Schoolcraft only put Native beliefs closer to Gnosticism and further from orthodox Christianity. Curtis’s account reveals another parallel between native belief and Gnosticism, which Schoolcraft did not talk about. The Winnebagos speak of a god Maona, the earth-maker, who made a man, but the man was not good., The man became an evil spirit. He copied everything that Maona made, only his were evil. The good god made elk and deer, the bad one made huge monsters and evil spirits. Maona sent his son, Wakchungkaka, the Foolish One, to kill the monsters and make the earth fit for man. But he couldn’t destroy everything. Maona sent two more sons, but they were warlike. Finally he sent his youngest son Wash-ching-geka, the Little Hare (244).

This idea of the created being who bungles the creation of the things in the world is similar to the Gnostics’ myth of the ignorant or evil demiurge, who tried to make copies of the things he saw in heaven but did a bad job. This bungling is the prime source of evil in this world, for the Gnostic as well as the Winnebago.

Finally, let me turn to the myth of the woman who falls from the sky. We can look at other versions of the story taken as early as possible and determine the trend. What we find are other versions that are more specific, and in so doing they offer even more parallels to Gnostic myth. I have cited Brinton, who goes back to 1640 with the first French missionaries. Levi Strauss (1988) has summarized another version. The woman who falls from heaven is the daughter of a girl of high rank, and the father is suspected to be her mother’s brother, who was frequently left alone with her. The mother’s brother dies, and the baby girl cries all the time unless she can go the corpse and commune with its spirit, which gives her infallible guidance. Eventually she is married off to a very jealous chief. The chief thinks she’s having an affair with another chief. He is so affected as to become physically ill. Then he has a dream, which contains a key word which only the other chief, the one suspected of the affair, can guess and so interpret the dream. The word means “excrement” and also the flower of a special tree that lights up the village. The dreamer is to cut down the tree. He follows the advice of the dream, and that creates a hole into which somehow she falls into our world. Some say she slipped, others say her husband did it, and others someone else. Her fall is cushioned by the company of the other chief, named Meteor, who envelopes her in a bright light.

Levi-Strauss dwells on the Freudian implications of the tale, relating to excrement. For me the tale provides more parallels with Gnosticism. The cause of the discord is the husband’s jealousy, but behind that is likely the wife’s inordinate attachment to her dead father, much as Sophia wished to be with her ancestor. Meteor is reminiscent of the heavenly Christ, who comes to Sophia’s aid briefly (in Irenaeus’s paraphrase of Ptolemaeus, Barnstone 1984). Beyond that, the Native myth brings out a hitherto unsuspected aspect of the Gnostic myth. Although Sophia is the one who moves toward the Unknown Father, the other archons have the same desire, implanted in them from the start. So we may suspect that they feel jealousy toward Sophia. The discord is more than Sophia, it is throughout the divine realm. Their jealousy, moreover, is the divine prototype for the jealousy of the demiurge later, who wants to keep humanity from experiencing its true origin and parentage and demands exclusive worship, which orthodox Judaism and Catholicism unfortunately grant him.

Levi-Strauss finds significant that the key word in the dream means “excrement.” It is a nice touch that the woman is excreted from a hole in the sky, probably pushed by her husband. Nonetheless it is an event that cures his sickness. Levi-Strauss’s thesis is that myths such as this one speak about the crises and stages of early childhood, in this case the terrors and discomforts of toilet training and the anal stage of psycho-social development. I will return to this theme late in the next section.

C. The Gnostic and orthodox Christ

Now let us go beyond Schoolcraft’s comparisons and look to other parallels, specifically to the myth of Christ, in both its orthodox and Gnostic interpretation.

For both Gnostics and orthodox Christians, Christ is a bearer of light and a liberator from the shackles of this world. In orthodox Christianity, it is the sacrifice by Christ of his life, a life led in perfection, that brings liberation to humanity, if only they will believe in him as the god who died and was born again, and try to follow his teachings. For the Gnostics, however, the doctrine of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is not in itself what brings salvation. His teachings are important, when interpreted in a Gnostic manner, and also his sufferings, as a prototype for humanity’s own sufferings, from which comes the discernment of our true nature. His death also matters, but not as a unique event that expiates a crime, but again as a prototype for humanity, for whom the death of the ego is the liberation of the divine aspect or Self, for those who experience it.

The Iroquois had their own dying and resurrected god, or sometimes goddess. Here is the myth. In a time of hunger among the people, a god comes and offers himself. He instructs the people to kill him--sometimes a hero has to wrestle him first, gaining great strength from the encounter--bury him, and keep the place free from weeds. In 7 months their prayers will be answered, as a nutritious plant emerges from the soil.

Clearly this is just a fable about maize and the liberating power of agriculture. It is a myth known all over the world, wherever plants are planted and harvested. Yet there are other myths of death and resurrection.

For the Ojibwas, the legend takes the specific form of a hero myth. The high god has four sons, one for each of the four directions. In the tobacco ceremony, which opens any important occasion, homage is always paid to the four directions. The most powerful of these is the West--not the place of the dying sun, but rather that of the West Wind, the one that sometimes brings rain. As the prevailing wind, he is the strongest of the younger gods. If he were the only god, he would correspond nicely to the God of orthodox Christianity and Judaism. As merely the strongest, he corresponds quite closely to the Gnostics’ Yaldobaoth, their name for the Jewish God.

In any case, the West Wind impregnates a careless young woman who happens to expose her private parts in that direction one day. (Jung reports that this idea is prevalent also in the Near East.) She gives birth as a virgin to a godly son, who is a mighty hunter and one of the few survivors of the flood, which in this version is brought about by evil forces all bent on trying to kill him, their arch-enemy. Named Monobozho (Schoolcraft 1992, originally 1839), or sometimes Michabo (Brinton 1882), he is responsible for shaping the earth after the flood. He is the good earth-shaper, corresponding to the Logos of the book of John. His grandmother is said to be the Moon; thus he is a version of the Iroquois hero Yaksakea, whom they readily identified with Jesus (Brinton, 57).

Monobozho later defeats the tribe of serpents that terrorizes humanity and kills its leader through trickery, first assuming the shape of a tree and then that of an old lady, so he can get close. He also journeys to the underworld and liberates his brother, who fell through the ice and was held captive there. He kills an evil sorcerer through trickery as well, pretending to be a whole army so that the sorcerer fears to attack. He gets swallowed by a sea monster and kills it from within, liberating the people inside and providing meat for humans to eat.

But Monobozho has a dark side: he kills or tries to kill innocent animals who help him--a badger who lets him escape from the serpents into his lair, a bird who tells him where to find the chief serpent. The first is because there isn’t room for both of them in the tunnel, and the second because he doesn’t want the bird to be giving his plans away. In the end the hero becomes the Northwest Wind, which in Minnesota is the wind that brings winter storms. He is a hero but also a nature spirit, harmful and thoughtless as well as beneficial.

Where in all this is Christ? Jung claimed to see a nature spirit in the Gnostic Christ; it is certainly present in the alchemists’ Mercurius. Of course Jesus neither for Gnostics or anyone else is as cruel and ungrateful as the Ojibwas’ hero. Monobozho is like a human chief: he does good things known to all, but he is also capable of secret evils of which anyone close to him must be wary.

Yet in the Gnostic Acts of John, Jesus reveals himself as one who consumes and releases both. There we find Jesus laughing at the multitude who think he is the one dying on the cross, when in fact he is safe in a cave on the Mount of Olives, although invisible and on a cross of light. Actually, he explains in riddling verses, aspects of him are in both places. The Church father Irenaeus reports that for some Gnostics it was not Jesus who died on the cross, but a substitute, Simon of Cyrene (Barnstone 1984). Even the canonical Book of John hints at trickery. He delivers a “sop” or piece of bread soaked in soup to Judas and says that the one receiving it will betray him so “that scripture may be fulfilled,” in other words that he may die the Messiah, that people will toss dice for his robe, etc., as mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. He is instigating his own arrest and wants to be crucified. Judas is only doing Jesus’s bidding when he takes the sop and leads the authorities to Jesus. All the apostles know this, or they would have simply stopped the one receiving the sop from going out.

One aspect to the divine culture hero is his identification with the sun, while his grandmother is the moon. It is worth recalling that our day of worship is Sunday, as opposed to the Jewish Saturday. The switch to Sunday was precisely so as to identify Christ with the sun and the Roman god Apollo, whom the Emperor Constantine worshipped.

In relation to the sun, the plains Indians had their sun dance. This was a dance of purification, preceded by a sweat, fasting, and then walking in the hot sun around a pole that symbolized the heavenly tree. At the end a cord from the top of the tree would pierce the chest of the dancer, through some tissue and out again, so that the dancer could lean back against the taut rope as he walked, feeling not just the pain but also the connection to a divinity which the sun and the top of the pole only symbolized--and a bliss stimulated only in part by his natural endorphins. (Insert here a picture of the dancers in such a pose.) Some dancers went even further, and by inserting the cord under some very strong muscle tissue, hung suspended in the air by the cord attached to a tree limb or the roof of a building. (See insert.) Such practices bring to mind Jesus on the cross, experiencing not just the pain of the nails in his flesh but the ecstasy of his attachment to the divine through the pole he is on. This is another version of the Gnostic Christ, liberating himself from the body by the experience of the cross. One Gnostic apocryphal source reports a vision attributed to the apostle Peter, seeing Christ dancing above the cross as his body crumpled below.

I think we will find other parallels to the Gnostic Christ if we look to other manifestations of the Ojibwas’ Monobozho, such as Coyote in the southwest and Raven in the northwest. These are always portrayed as doing good, unselfish deeds as well as thoughtless ones, even foolish things. They are physically weak, and are scorned as a fool as much as they are is admired and feared: rather like, in this respect, the Gnostics’ characterization of the Judeo-Christian god. Yet he has his moments of inspiration. Consider, for example, the taunt of Br'er Rabbit, a descendent of the Iroquois’ Great Hare. In the “Uncle Remus” stories, drawn from slaves in the American south, Br'er Rabbit tells Br'er Wolf and Br'er Bear, “Throw me anywhere you want, but not in that briar patch.” They do so, and Br'er Rabbit happily escapes in a place they cannot follow. Compare that with “Eat from any tree you want, but not that one.” Of course orthodox Christians alike would reject the suggestion that God really wanted Eve to eat that fruit! Gnostic Christians would agree that Jehovah, the God in the Garden, had no intent to cause her to eat the fruit, but would insist that the higher god, the Unknown Father—corresponding to the Jungian progressive unconscious--had precisely that idea.

I will tell one more myth that is particularly reminiscent of the Christ myth, as interpreted by Gnostics. But first I want to try to say why the Gnostic aspects of such myths are important. It is precisely that aspect which demonstrates that such myths were not made up under the influence of Christian missionaries. The missionaries certainly did not spread and endorse Gnostic myths! Far from it, when they heard something that was reminiscent of what they might have learned about Gnosticism in seminary, they would have reacted in horror, and forbidden the telling of such tales. They would have condemned talk of such a god, as in fact they did treat Native American religious practice. But the Gnostic aspect only goes to show the authenticity of Gnosticism as a product of universal human experience, especially the experience of a gifted few, the shamans with visions and corresponding rituals, who experienced the divine in their own lives and used that experience to help others.

And what is that experience? One is that of the essential mystery of life--we don’t know anything about our world’s origin and destination, and why it is the way it is, in any intellectual way. All we have are intuitions and altered-state experiences. Another is that of life as bringing both the beneficial and the harmful our way, and there is nothing but knowledge, gained through experience, to protect us from harm and bring forth what is good for us. The essential aloofness of God is a major aspect of human experience, before religion was defined by large hierarchies. God may have ways, but we do not know them, except glimpses in intuitions and altered-state experiences. What we superficially treasure, in fact, might be our worst evil--our pride, greed, lust, etc. The detachment from ordinary life achieved in altered states reveals the falsity of such gods. We learn also that the world is a trickster, that we cannot trust mere appearances. Finally, freed of our attachments we realize that the world is filled with divinity. What better expression of this than the myth of the divine feminine who falls and becomes the world? Inside her is divine life, and she is everywhere.

The myths also reflect the fact that we do not remember our beginnings--I mean our beginnings on this earth as infants and small children--yet it is only by resolving the emotions of that time lost to memory that we may regain our own divine peace and joy. It is actually a series of times, which for us are “aeons,” epochs stretching behind us, as the Gnostics called the symbolic representatives of unremembered time. As modern psychology has confirmed, these times are ones of yearning for a restored merger with the powerful parent, and of jealousies toward any that would threaten that yearning. Then that very parent throws us out of what vestigial merger we might have! This parent may be male or female: the lost merger was with the mother, but the identification with power and the hope for restoration can be with either. We have goddess religions and god religions, sometimes even both in one. We have father-centered children and mother-centered ones, sometimes even children balanced evenly between them.

Orthodoxy and Gnosticism then reflect different attitudes toward childhood development. In orthodoxy, humans at the beginning are literally dirt, think they are superior to their parents, and deserve to have that belief knocked out of them by hard work and tight rules that are irregularly enforced, depending on the parent’s mood, by punishments far in excess of the infractions, if indeed there were any to begin with. The only spiritually safe attitude is one of perpetual humility and self-abasement, in which all advances are due to the parent, all setbacks due to oneself.

The Gnostic attitude, by contrast, is one that children are divine by nature, their feelings of superiority natural, but needing to be subject to limits in order to keep from harming themselves. In fact once they discover their superiority they inevitably spill out of this world in which freedom is exchanged for security. In fact, it would be spiritually harmful for such beings to stay a spiritually sheltered environment. They must plunge into a world whose order and rules are regular if unknown and unexpected, resulting in great insecurity unless they also act as if they had divine origins and destinations, with access to divine help—not to relieve their insecurity in the chaos, but to advance spiritually, facing their devils, so as to experience their divinity above the chaos and so attain both the independence and interdependence of beings which only the highest divinity can possess.

It goes without saying that the second attitude, in which infantile narcissism goes fundamentally unchallenged, produces a more unruly and less ordered populace, of people of many different opinions, all of whom think they are divinely inspired. For that reason alone such an attitude would be discouraged by most governments and large organizations. In tribal societies such independent thinking is less of a problem. Moreover, only a few individuals, the shamans, hold the main spiritual function. If they are valued, it is for who they are rather than the organization they belong to. And most members of the tribe have spiritual experiences some of the time--during "vision quests," and special occasions. In such societies, and even in more complex ones such as our own, a large part of spiritual advancement, from the Gnostic orientation, is putting one’s own specialness in the context of that of others, restraining one’s divine impulsivity in favor of the interdependency of divine beings, out of which the One can be discerned and attained.

Now let us turn to my final example, from the culture of the Northwest coast of North America. This story is called “Raven and the Box of Daylight.” (in Holm and Corey 1983). At the beginning, the world is dark. But people talk about a great chief having daylight in a box. This chief lives at the source of the river the people live on, the Nass River in Alaska. In another version, he lives in heaven, where Raven remembers the chief having daylight in a box. Both versions point to a spiritual dimension to the story: life is a river, and light is at its beginning, where we come from, the divine world. Or more directly, the light is in heaven, not on earth. Why people were put on earth without light is not explained. It is just the way it is. Perhaps there is another myth that tells how this happened, one that is lost. But nowhere in North America do we find a story of a divine commandment which the people have disobeyed, as in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Raven schemes to get that box, so he can impress the people with his prowess. He has been laughed at too often. So he goes to that village with that chief. He turns himself into a pine needle and floats downstream where the chief’s daughter drinks. After many tries, she finally drinks him along with the water and becomes strangely pregnant. We know how those things go. The child develops quickly and charms his grandfather instantly, despite his strange eyes like raven’s and his temper tantrums. He yells for a bundle in the back of the lodge, and yells so persistently that the chief gives him the bundle, which he thinks is wrapped too securely for a child to get undone. Very quickly, the moon falls out. The child is happy for a while, but one day he throws the object away and it lands in the sky. Soon he is yelling again, this time for a box in the corner. When he finally gets it, he metamorphoses into a giant Raven and runs off with the box to show the people. The people still scoff at him when he tells them what he has, so he throws it open. There has been daylight ever since.

This is the trickster god par excellence, but it also the god born of a virgin, identical with his male parent, who brings light to the world. Like the Gnostic Christ, he must trick in order to bring the light. The darkness, of course, is the darkness of this world without the manifestation of spirit. The light, i.e. spirit, comes from beyond this world, and Raven is the one who brings it down to humanity. In this story Raven does his deed not to be a savior, but to impress people and satisfy his curiosity. This speaks, more openly than most European versions, to the recovery of childhood present in such myths, and especially to the proper divinization of that childhood.


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Brinton, D. (1882) American hero-myths: A study in the native religions of the Western continent. Philadelphia: H.C. Watts & Co.

Curtis, N. (1907). The Indians’ book: an offering by the American Indians of Indian lore, musical and narrative, to form a record of the songs and legends of their race. New York, London, Harper and Brothers.

Holm, B. and Corey, P.(1983). The box of daylight: northwest coast Indian art. Seattle WA: University of Washington Press

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Schoolcraft, H. and Eastman, S. (1851-1857). Historical and statistical information respecting the history, condition, and prospects of the Indian tribes of the United States; collected and prepared under the direction of the Bureau of Indian Affairs per act of Congress of March 3rd, 1847. Philadelphia, Lippincott, Grambo.


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