USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘raven’
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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

How the Raven Gave Light – Haida Gwaii (Canada)

I cannot remember which year it was, but one of the years I stayed behind on the Queen Charlotte Islands for the fishing derby, I had a chance to talk to one of the natives of Masset (which is part of the Haida Gwaii territory) who was selling Haida paraphernalia at the Masset Airport.  He was of Haida descent, and upon asking him about the significance of the numerous raven figurines – I was aware of the significance of ravens in native American legends, but wanted to know how it fit into the heritage of the indigenous people of Haida Gwaii –  he told me the story of how the raven gave light to the world.

At the beginning of time, the world was consumed by darkness.  The Raven had existed since the beginning of time, and was growing tired of living in the dark.  After some period of time, the Raven came across an old man who lived with his one and only daughter.  The old man had a little box that contained all of the light of the universe, and the Raven decided to steal it from the man and his daughter.  Once the daughter went to the river to gather water, the Raven transformed himself into a fir needle and floated in the the daughter’s basket.  She drank the water, needle included, and the Raven found himself in the stomach of the daughter.  He then changed into a human fetus, and was eventually born as the grandson of the old man.  The Raven convinced the old man to allow him to hold the box of light, but when the old man was handing it over, the Raven transformed to his original form and stole the ball of light in the box.  He escaped the house of the old man, and gave the ball of light to the universe.

I’ve gone to Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands) every summer since I was 8.  It’s our families annual deep-sea fishing trip, and have met many of Haida people.  There are many Haida natives still living in Masset, which is where the airport is.  I have seen many Haida people in my lifetime, as some even lead tours to show off their many totem poles and historical residences.  I am going back this summer, and who knows, maybe I’ll get my own story.  But once again, we see an animal-centered native story.  And I’ve always thought of the raven as an animal of darkness, but in this case the Raven is a source of light.

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Myths
Narrative

Creation Myth: Raven, the Trickster

This myth is known to mirror Christian theology and was spread by the natives of Alaska, specifically the Inuit culture.

Inuits first of all believe in a “divine spirit” that created the Raven. The Raven was originally a seagull, who was brilliantly white and pure. The “divine spirit” also created man and the man lived in a hut. The divine spirit forbade the raven from going in to the man’s hut. However the raven would continually intrude on the man’s hut. Yet one day the raven was caught by the divine spirit in the hut. The raven in fear of the divine spirit escaped through the smokehole, and thus turned black due to all the soot. This is the story of how the seagull became a Raven and from then on the Raven became a trickster. The raven is known as the source of sin and trickery to humans, as this Raven taught humankind to lie, steal, and other evils.

My informant stated that in Alaska, that many regions have variations of this story. This version of the story comes from the Chignik Tradition. My informant has heard this from elders of Chignik as he was listening to their stories while at a fishing stop. He shares this myth as he belives that it is very interesting as it is a variation of the fall of Lucifer. My informant states that the elders love to share this myth and keep the Inuit stories alive and he also think it is a creative take.

This is a very entertaining creation myth as seagull must be prevalent on Alaska, yet so are raven. It is an interesting connection that the Inuit people have made that the a raven use to be a seagull. What is also interesting is how similar this story is to the fall of Lucifer: the raven betrayed the divine spirit’s trust and thus spread evil to get back at the divine spirit, Lucifer betrayed God and thus has a vendetta against him. This legend also has a nice narrative structure where a seagull which is white is pure, and a raven which is black contains all of mankind’s evil. Not only is this a creation myth about the raven, but also the birth of all the sins in the world.

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