USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘creation myth’
Myths
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Native American Raven Creation Myth

Context:

The informant – BL – is a 20-year-old white male, born and raised in Seattle, Washington. He learned the following creation myth in elementary school, on a field trip that aimed to teach students about the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest. He told me this story after I asked him of any folklore he knew growing up in the Pacific Northwest.

Piece:

Being from the Pacific Northwest, we have a very close connection with our Native American roots. We try to preserve their culture, and language, and stories by passing them down, um, to our children. I learned this one when I was in elementary school, on a field trip where we learned about, uh, the native salmon, the native peoples, and our watershed.

This is a story from the Haida people, who inhabited – and still do inhabit – the coastal Pacific Northwest region. And this is the story of how the Raven – Raven, the trickster – brought light to the world.

In the beginning, the world still existed, but in darkness. Raven existed from the beginning of time, he was on of its first creations, but he eventually grew tired of stumbling around in the dark, bumping into things. One day, he stumbled into something that didn’t feel like a piece of nature. It was a sideways log – many of them stacked on top of each other. Knowing it was a house, Raven peered inside the window, where there was light. And he saw an old man and his daughter. The light was emanating from a box in the corner, peeking out from the cracks of it. Realizing that this must be the only source of light in the world, the clever Raven quickly devised a plan. Um.

He took to the air and flew circles over the house for hours, until he saw the old man’s daughter exit to go collect water from the river. And went she went to the river to fill her basket with water, he transformed himself into a pine from an evergreen, which landed in her basket. And when she drank it, he was ingested. Um. When she returned to her house, he again transformed, only this time, into a tiny human in her stomach. There, he bided his time, waiting until, finally, the girl gave birth to a beautiful baby boy.

The old man was so overjoyed at having a grandson that he quickly took to the raven, thinking that he was his own. But the boy, um, turned out to be very curious and very eager to learn about new things. He always pestered the old man about what was in the box in the corner…what the light was coming from. But, the old man threatened his grandson to never touch the box, and to never look inside it, as it held great treasure.

But, Raven pestered and pestered, until, finally, the old man gave in. He went over to the box and opened it, and light poured throughout the house, illuminating all. The old man reached into the box, and took out the sun and threw it to the boy to play with. But, as the boy caught it, he transformed back into his raven form, and caught it in his beak, and flew through the chimney… there’s a chimney… out into the world where he… released the sun into the world. Um. No no no. So as the old man threw it to him, the boy transformed back into Raven, caught it in his beak, and flew through the chimney. He didn’t know how to release it into the world, so he shook it back and forth, little flecks of light flying off, which then became the stars. Eventually, he threw it upwards, where it continued flying, never losing speed. And that’s how we got our sun and stars.

 

Analysis:

As is common with myths, this creation story is likely steeped in the culture of the Native American Haida peoples to whom it belongs, and, therefore, it seems strange to someone not part of this culture. This can be said of the informant, BL, here, who’s personal disconnect from the story was apparent. It was clear from the way he told the story that it was a story with which he was not intimately familiar, but, instead, learned in school when learning about the native people of his hometown. It was clear that he was attempting to recall parts of the story as he told it, occasionally backtracking to correct himself. Either way, the story is a fascinating creation story, and it is interesting to hear a filtered version of this creation myth told from an outsider who had merely grown up learning about this culture.

For further information regarding the Raven as the predominant trickster archetype in Coastal Northwestern America, see David Vogt’s (1996). Raven’s universe. Archaeoastronomy, 12, 38.

Myths
Narrative

Ganesh Origin

Context:

The informant – RB – is a middle-aged Hindu woman, originally from West Bengal, India. She now works as a nutritionist in South Florida, and is one of my mother’s closest friends. The following happened during a conversation in which I asked her to tell me about some of her favorite Indian folklore.

Piece:

I’ll tell you a little story about Ganesh. His mother was taking a bath and she told him that, “You know what, I’m taking a bath, don’t let anybody come in here, because I don’t want anybody to come in.”

In the meantime, his father, Shiva, comes to visit, and Ganesh says, “You can’t come in,” because, apparently, he’s never seen his father before.

His father, also a god, says “Of course I can go in, that’s my house.”

And Ganesh said, “No, you cannot go in! My mom said I’m supposed to be guarding the door and I won’t let you in.” The father gets very upset and looks at Ganesh with so much anger, that his head falls off his shoulder.
The mother comes out and sees what’s happened, and is like, “Why did you just do that to our little boy?”

So by that time, his anger has kind of subsided, and he’s like, “Oh my god, we can’t have him without a head. We have to find a new head!” So apparently, he sends people all over the world, saying, “Go find me the first living creature who’s sleeping with its head facing the East. Cut off its head and bring it to me.” So everybody goes everywhere and can’t find someone, because, apparently in India you can’t sleep with your head towards the East, since the sun rises in the East. They go all over the world, and they find this elephant. So what they do is, they cut off its head and they bring it.

And the mother goes, “What the heck! I can’t put that head on my little baby!”

The father says, “Well, I can’t change the rule, I said the first living being with its head facing the East,” so he puts the head on the child, and the child is alive.

The mother goes, “No one is going to worship him! Everyone will make fun of him! Nobody is going to respect him.” So now it is written that, before any prayer or any celebration, – anything – you have to first pray to Ganesh before you can do any official celebration. So now in every part of India, before prayer, or any celebration – a wedding, anything – you must first pray to Ganesh. Ganesh is also the God of removing obstacles, so he’s become a very popular symbol. I have a Ganesh in my house; I think your mom has a Ganesh in your house, too.

 

Analysis:

I was raised around a lot of Indian/Hindu culture, so I’d, of course, heard of Ganesh, but it was really fun to learn the creation myth of Ganesh himself. I’ve heard and read much less detailed versions of this same story, but it was really fascinating to hear this version from someone who is an active participant in the Hindu religion/culture. From some brief research, it seems that there are variations in which Ganesh’s head is physically cut off, and some stories omit the detail about the requirement for the head facing East.

Myths
Narrative

The Indian Paintbrush

Text: So there was this little Native American boy who was born. He was not as strong as the other boys though, so when everybody else got named cool names such a “strong arms” or “fast legs,” I don’t quite remember what he was named, but it was kind of lame. He was not cool. So he’s growing up and he’s not strong so he goes to visit the shaman chief person and the guy’s like, “Just because you’re not strong doesn’t mean you don’t have other talents. Like, you might have something else. I know you’re going to be great!” So this kid is like obsessed with art and painting and stuff, and he’s always been painting as he’s been growing up. So he goes up to the top of this hill one day and he sees this gorgeous sunset and he’s like, “I want to paint that sunset.” Then this vision comes to him of this woman who is like, “Go find a buckskin as white as this,” and she holds up a white buckskin sheet (because they used to paint on leather), “and when you do, paint the sunset on it.” So he’s looking around trying to find this buckskin sheet. He’s painting and he can’t quite find the colors that match the sunset anywhere, and he’s trying to put it all together but he’s having some trouble.  So finally he gets the buckskin, but he still can’t get the colors. So he goes to the hill and he’s like, “Help me I need assistance.” So the vision lady says, “Come back tomorrow.” So he does, and when he gets back to the hill he has the exact paint that he needs on the ends of all of these paint brushes that we’re left for him, sticking out of the ground. And he paints the sunset on the sheet and he leaves the paintbrushes up there and he goes down the hill, and he shows his people his painting. And they’re like, “This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” And they go back up in the morning and there’s these new beautiful red flowers that are blooming all over the countryside. And the real flowers are called the Indian paintbrushes and that’s what the Native Americans in that area use for red pigment.

Context: SH is a born and raised Texan studying psychology at USC. Her time in the south led her to be exposed to many different stories with western flairs while she was growing up.  The myth above is a story that she remembers learning at a very young age, and can be assumed to be very specific to Texas, for SH was very clear that most Texas children know this tale. I was told this piece of folklore over lunch one afternoon.

Interpretation: Myths are weird, sacred stories about creations and how the world came to be. In this case, this is the myth of how the Indian Paintbrush flowers came into existence. They don’t have any real world value because they do not interact with our world. If they do, it is considered a miracle. They are held as sacred truths and blueprints as to how we should go about living our lives. Sometimes myths are not easily translated from one language/culture to another. The Indian Paintbrush, however, contains pretty reasonable circumstance that explain how the red wildflowers came to exist when considered alongside other creation myths that would be considerably more outlandish when viewed from a western perspective.

Legends
Myths
Narrative

Fraternity origin story

Main Piece:

Informant: Yeah I can tell you that. Does it matter if it actually happened or no ‘cause I’m not sure.

Interviewer: No

Informant: Okay, so the story is about this guy, Billy Bags. William Bagnard was his full name. When he was like around twenty he was drafted into World War II. He goes to Japan and eventually gets taken as a Prisoner of War (POW) by the army. When he’s there he goes through absolute hell. But Billy Bags is a tough guy so he eventually makes it through and comes back to the US after the war. The story goes…and I’m not positive…but the story goes that after the war he enrolled at USC. When he’s there he tries to join a fraternity, cause, like, he wanted to recapture the brotherhood or whatnot he found in the war. But when he joins he is disgusted by the act of hazing. Billy Bags had been through hell in Japan and like, for him he had seen how bad his experience as a POW was and didn’t want to ever put other people through anything similar. Billy Bags says, “screw this, brotherhood isn’t supposed to make you want to put your brothers through pain, I’m gonna start my own fraternity where we don’t haze.” Pretty much that’s the story we all tell each other, although we have no idea if it’s true or not.

Background:

            The informant is a friend of mine from high school who know goes to school here at USC. He is a sophomore, majoring in Business Administration and from Denver, Colorado. I asked him if he could re-tell me the story of how his fraternity was founded. The fraternity in question carries a strict ant-hazing policy that the members are incredibly proud of. This interview was conducted in person and recorded for transcription.

Context:

            The informant learned of this story through other members in his fraternity one night during his new member semester. He said, however, that no one formally “taught” him the story. Rather, the story is passed down through informal interaction. I have personally heard the informant talk fondly of this story previous to collecting this piece.

Analysis

            As best I can observe, the story of Billy Bags is an identifier for the members of the fraternity and provides commonality through a shared legacy. The informant was even doubtful of the validity of this legend, yet he still considers it a part of his own community’s history, regardless of the truth. In this way, the story of Billy Bags is a legend for the informant and his peers. Legends often provide causal reasoning for the laws of a given society/community. In this case, the legend of Billy Bags provides the fraternity with a tangible reason for its anti-hazing policy. The story of Billy Bags could be considered a myth in some cases. It is a creation tale that simultaneously establishes reasoning behind the fraternity’s belief system and traditions.

Earth cycle
Myths
Narrative

Myth of the Creation of Seasons in Maui

Informant: The ancient Hawaiian myth of Maui straining the Sun is basically that Maui is an ancient chief and his mom was complaining that the days were not long enough because her kapa, which is like a cloth made out of bark, didn’t have enough time to dry in the Sun, so he took his sister’s hair and made a rope out of it and used it to lasso the Sun’s rays. When he caught the Sun with the rope that he made, the Sun was begging for her life and they came to an agreement that the days would be long in the summer and short in the winter, and so that’s the Hawaiian story of how seasons happened.

Context: The informant is a USC student who is from Maui, and has lived in Maui their whole life. They heard this story growing up on Maui, and they remember it because it is the myth of how their home was created. To the informant, this piece is reminiscent of home and the place in which they grew up; this is how they interpret it. This piece was performed in a traditional, face-to-face, storytelling interview, where the informant told me the story and I recorded it.

Analysis:

This narrative piece of folklore is a myth, and it is very indicative of the genre of myths as it is a creation story for a specific location, in this case Maui, taking place outside of this world (in the sky), as it involves the Sun. This myth is intended to tell the story of the creation of the seasons of the island of Maui, and it tells the story from beginning to end, involving the primary character of Maui, whose interaction with the Sun leads to the creation of the world as they know it in Maui. This conveys not just how this story is a traditional myth in that it displays the characteristics of traditional myths: that it is sacred truth, has no relation to our world, and is a creation story that sets up the weather seasons of everyday life, but to me, it also conveys how myths relate to the physical characteristics of the location they are placed in. The climate of Maui is tropical and therefore very sunny, so it only makes sense that the Sun is a central part of this myth about Maui. The physical characteristics of the location observed by the people of Maui translate into their myths, and this is very indicative of a characteristic of myths that I have noticed throughout this class: myths often reflect the world surrounding them in ways that may not have been previously thought of, such as climate, geography, physical surroundings, etc. I know that I did not realize how much this aspect contributed to myths until interviewing the informant and analyzing the story of Maui, and it conveys the way in which geographical locations affect myths. This myth gives a way for the Hawaiian people to pass on the story of the creation of seasons through generations, in a way that sounds familiar to them because of the characteristics that come from the geographical location they are in. This conveys how this myth can create a sense of identity among the Hawaiian people, through the commonalities they will recognize in this myth. Overall, the myth of Maui conveys both a traditional and nontraditional way of analyzing the myth.

Annotation: For another version of this myth, see Chapter XVI, Section 1 (Kalakaua, 63-65), “Hawaiian Mythology, Chapter XVI, Maui the Trickster.” Ulukau,

www.ulukau.org/elib/cgi-bin/library?e=d-0beckwit1-000Sec–11en-50-20-frameset-book–1-010escapewin&a=d&d=D0.18&toc=0.

Myths
Narrative

Manaiakalani

Informant: Uluwehi is a 21-year-old student from Hawaiʻi. She is from the island of Oʻahu.

Main Piece: “Okay so…Māui was the youngest of four brothers. And one day, he wanted to go fishing with his brothers. But they told him ‘no, no Māui, you’re the baby brother, you can’t come fish.’ So Māui went to his grandmother and asked her for help. She took her jawbone and made it into a magic fishhook, Manaiakalani.

So Māui was really smart and he hid himself on his brothers’ boat. When they got too far out to turn around, Māui jumped out. They were annoyed with him but let him stay because it was too late. But they were telling him off and didn’t think he would catch anything. He told them he would catch something really big, but they had to trust him and keep rowing until he caught it and not look back.

Māui baited his hook with feathers and threw it into the ocean. It caught something really big, and the brothers started rowing and rowing and Māui told them to kept rowing. And the boat was almost capsizing because the fish was so big. But the fish was actually the land that would become Hawaiʻi, and Māui was going to bring them all up and together.

Because the boat was rocking so much and they were really worried, one of the brothers looked back and saw all of the islands being dragged up from the ocean. And they’re all beautiful, but because the brother looked, the line broke. Manaiakalani went into the sky and became a constellation. And the islands stayed as separate islands. But Māui had made Hawaiʻi.”

Background Information about the Performance: This piece was told to the informant as a means of explaining the constellation Manaiakalani, which is composed of roughly the same stars as the Western constellation Scorpio. She was told it as a child by her family, and also learned it in school. It is important to her as it describes the creation of Hawaii, her home.

Context of Performance: This piece is told primarily to children as a means of understanding the constellations, but also fits into the larger story of Māui.

Thoughts: It is noteworthy that this piece explains a constellation, much like the Western constellations are explained in stories. Since both the Hawaiians and the Ancient Greeks sail avidly, these constellation-based stories could have been created to help sailors remember directions when navigating.

Folk Beliefs
general
Myths
Narrative

Japanese Creation Myth (As Told by a Scot)

Context: Gathered from one of my roommates once he found out about my collection project.

Background: My roommate had heard this story from somewhere he couldn’t remember, and thought it would be interesting to see how it reflects the “real” Japanese myth.

Dialogue: I would  love to refresh myself on, like, exactly the history and, like, what the names are and stuff, too, but… I think basically, the gist of it was, there are these gods, or like deities at least, in heaven, in like the spiritual realm, um, and two of them one day, I think by order of, like, the elder gods or whatever, um…. There were two of them who were ordered to go down, or maybe just decided, to go down to Earth, the kingdom of Earth, and basically, like, start humanity, like they would do a little pole dance and then everything was born. More on that in a second! So they go, they go down to Earth…. um, it’s like a male god and a female god… They go down to Earth, they’re like descending this crazy cool pole or whatever, and they like do this dance around the pole, um, and like all of life was born, and then they realized, “Wait a minute… Everything’s shitty! None of this… is good.” And, uh… Wait a minute, I’m trying to remember… The order of the speaking is important here, but I don’t remember the order of the story structure, so… Yeah. I’m about to get it though, I’m about to get it. Anyway, point is, they finish their dance, they gave life to everything, and the girl was like… “Great! We’re done!” And the guy was like, “WOAH, that’s weird, that you talked first, hold on! Let’s start EVERYTHING over.” So they go back up to heaven, and they do the dance again, and the guy says, “Hey, that’s great, we made life!” and then the woman was like, “Yeah, right!” and he’s like, “Okay, awesome, everything’s good.” So that’s Japan’s explanation eternally for, uh— Not explanation for misogyny but just a justification, I guess.

Analysis: Two parts of this stood out to me. The first was what my roommate mentioned, the fact that his version of this myth would most certainly be different from the “real” or “official” one, and how interesting it would be to compare the two versions. There were a good amount of pieces of the myth that my roommate left out, including the name of the deities (Izanami and Izanagi) and how the land of Japan came to be specifically, rather than simply “they gave life to everything.” He also added the element of a “pole dance” to the myth, which isn’t present in any other version I’ve looked through.

The other part of this narrative that stuck out to me was the fact that my roommate saw the myth as a justification of misogyny, rather than simply as a pre-science explanation for how Japan and the world came to be. This is what stood out to me as the main difference between hearing the myth told by someone of Japanese cultural heritage and someone (like my roommate) who is not.

Annotation: I looked up more “official” versions of the creation myth, and found that there was a progression from one version to another to the one that my roommate eventually recounted to me. The most similar version to the one above can be found here. The version being credited as taken directly from “Kojiki, the Japanese ‘Record of Ancient Things'” can be found here.

general
Myths

Creation Myth of the Shiva Linga

Informant KM is a sophomore studying Chemical Engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is of Indian descent and moved to America at a very young age; however, she is very proud of her Indian heritage and considers herself to be very knowledgeable in regards to Indian mythology and religion. She is also fluent in two Indian languages, Hindi and Marathi. This piece of folklore is her recitation of a Hindu creation myth to me (AK). This myth is somewhat taboo, and for obvious reasons is not really brought up much in Indian society due to its graphic depictions of sex.

KM: Shivji used to walk around naked, but he had this problem where he couldn’t finish. He was having a lot of sex, but he could never finish. Priests were getting annoyed cause their wives kept leaving them to have sex with Shivji. But this was a recurring thing and this became so bad that the ground was breaking apart. But the world was going haywire because Shiv would just not finish. So finally, he found Parvathi, and the two of them had sex and he finally finished. So the world became a better place and this was memorialized in the form of the Shiva Linga. So the Shiva Linga became a thing that goes through the Yoni, which means vagina. And that’s how the Shiva Linga was created and became such a big moorthi which is worshiped.

AK: Good story haha, so why do you like this story?

KM: I think it’s interesting because it makes Hinduism look realer and more sexual in a sense. And uhh.. it’s taboo not everyone talks about it.

AK: So people don’t talk about this freely?

KM: No one talks about this freely. People don’t teach their children this story. People know the linga is a penis but don’t know why. Everyone worships penises but since it’s taboo no one wants to say anything about it.

AK: So then why was this story even written?

KM: I mean it’s real. I can’t say why it was written. The real question is why was this monument of a penis created. So I searched it up and I found this story on my own. In fact, people even pour milk on it as if to show him finishing.

AK: Why is this important then?

KM: I think it’s a big part of Indian history. With the Kama Sutra and all, it’s a remnant of how liberated India used to be in contrast to how it is now.

Initially, I was shocked to have heard this story. I have seen the shiva linga monument before, but I never really knew the story behind it. In retrospect, it is easy to see its relation to a phallus, but I am shocked that this came out of Hinduism. Through this piece, I learned that at one time, India was a very sexually liberated society; however, over time, it became more and more conservative. As KM mentioned, this creation myth is very taboo and not really passed on by parents.

general
Myths

Birth of Ganesh

Informant KM is a sophomore studying Chemical Engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is of Indian descent and moved to America at a very young age; however, she is very proud of her Indian heritage and considers herself to be very knowledgeable in regards to Indian mythology and religion. She is also fluent in two Indian languages, Hindi and Marathi. This piece of folklore is her recitation of a very common Indian folktale to me (AK).

KM: Shivji and Parvati are married. Shivji is the God of destruction and one of the top 3 gods of Hinduism. Parvati is a big goddess and she’s an embodiment of the Indian God Devi. Parvati is showering and she wanted to be protected while she was in the shower, so she used the dirt of her skin to make Ganesh. And Gan, these men, are like little minion kind of looking things that stand outside the door, so Ganesh was standing outside the door. Then Shivji came, and it’s not really sure why and Shivji got really pissed and out of anger he cut Ganesh’s head off. Parvati got pissed, and she threatened to — like tear the world apart if Shiv doesn’t fix the situation. So Shivji went and decided to cut the head off the first thing he saw which was an elephant, and he placed it on the Gan’s head.

For reference (Ganesh):

Ganesh

AK: Woah… that’s a crazy story, anything else you wanted to add?

KM: Yeah, actually what’s controversial about this story is that the idea of her taking the dirt off her skin was the product of adulteration, or it wasn’t Shiv’s child which was why he was so pissed.

AK: Cool, similar questions again, where did you hear this story from?

KM: I heard this from multiple people, my grandma, mom, dad, and I’ve read about it.

AK: What does it mean to you?

KM: I like this story because it shows people as flawed, even Gods.

I personally enjoyed this story because I was very well acquainted with the God Ganesh, but I never knew his creation myth. For this reason, I thoroughly enjoyed this piece because I learned something very relevant to my own life. Obviously, I could have just researched his creation on my own, but it was very nice to hear the story verbally.

Game
Myths
Narrative

Dota Origins

Piece:

Legend about origin and Dota: Dota started as a warcraft 3 mod in 2004 ish made by a guy named Eul (A username the unnamed individual used on online message boards across the internet). Then it was developed by this guy named Guinsoo (another username). He sort of half quit and sort of half no one liked him and went on to make League of Legends. Then it was [finished by] Ice Frog who was an adamant fan. No one knows who Ice Frog is. There are conspiracy theories that he’s an alcoholic russian guy (the game has a large Russian community. PGG, an ex-pro Russian player was rumored to be Ice Frog since he always seemed to know and use new strategies involving new uses for spells or items that had not been detailed in the game’s patch notes) or he’s a middle eastern guy. He’s assumed to be male.

Informant & Context:

My informant for this piece is a member of the Dota community who has been active since approximately 2007. The game in question, Dota, has been retired by all save a small crowd of nostalgic games in exchange for one of it’s many successors: Dota 2, League of Legends, Heroes of the Storm, and Smite.

Dota is an arena base defense game played online between two teams, each consisting of 5 players. The object of the game is to destroy the other teams base.

Thoughts:

Dota 2 is a game I am very familiar with and am fascinated by. Though I started playing in the second generation of the game, I am familiar with the fact that it has an unconventional origin. That is to say, it surfaced as a community mod to a specific level in Blizzard’s title, Warcraft III. I had heard the name Ice Frog referenced as the divine creator of the game during my time playing it and find it fascinating that they have not come forward to reveal their identity—since they are responsible for what has become the most popular genre in the history of video games in term of the sheer number of players.

[geolocation]