Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Creation Myths - Birds

Dear All,

Thanks for finding my blog. I thought it would be really nice to start out by sharing some creation myths from around the world. So if you could find some links - or retell some myths for the rest of us - that would be very much appreciated!

I would like to start this "myth-sharing" by sharing a link to a myth whose main protagonist is a Bird - or more precisely, a raven. In fact, the protagonist is not only "a" raven, he is "the Raven" - the famous North-West Coast Trickster.

Photo by Stefan Markov

The myth is a Haida Creation Myth. If you would like to listen to an oral version of it -- complete with Raven Song and Raven Calls in the background, please click on the following link: http://www.haidanation.ca/Pages/Haida_Legends/Audio/Raven%20Creation/Raven_Creation.html

One of the most famous Haida Mythtellers is Skaay of the Qquuna Quighawaay (also known as John Sky). A summary of his version of the Haida Creation myth can be found at the following website:

This website, though officially a site for kids, gives a pretty accurate description of Skaay's story (which was NOT a story for kids but for everybody). The original full-length version of the myth has been preserved -- even though Skaay never wrote it down himself -- because it has been transcribed word by word by the linguist John R. Swanton in 1900 and then translated by him with the help of a bilingual speaker.

Swanton's book, which includes "Raven Travelling" and several other myths by Skaay as well as by his colleague Ghandl, can be accessed on-line as e-book: http://www.archive.org/stream/haidatextsandmy04swangoog#page/n6/mode/2up

Photo by MTSVancouver

Robert Bringhurst has retranslated all of Skaay's myths  as well as all the myths of Skaay's contemporary Ghandl in his Haida Trilogy, which consists of an introduction to Haida literature (A Story as Sharp as a Knife) as well as one volume with Skaay's stories (Being in Being) and one with Ghandl's stories (9 Visits to the Mythworld). If you would like to get an on-line taste of Robert Bringhurst's translations, here is a YouTube clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQ2Ohf8WK80&feature=related

Haida Master Carver Bill Reid and Robert Bringhurst have retold several "Raven Stories" in the book The Raven Steals the Light. One of these stories, "The Raven and the First Men," is particularly famous, since Bill Reid has also created a visual representation of the story in his gigantic wood sculpture "Raven and the Clamshell" that can be seen at the Museum of Anthropology at UBC (Vancouver, BC). The original miniature version of the sculpture fits in the palm of a human hand and also lives in the  MOA,  right next to its gigantic brother.

If you would like to see Bill Reid's Raven sculpture - as well as some of his other works - please click on the following links:
Bill Reid Foundation: http://www.billreidfoundation.org/banknote/raven.htm
Bill Reid Gallery: http://www.billreidgallery.ca/
Native Online: http://www.nativeonline.com/billried.html

You can find the text of one version of the story about "the Raven and the First Humans" at the following site:

An animated retelling of one version of "the Raven Steals the Light" is available on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hB3SgMP9QW8

The Raven, in Haida Mythology, is a typical trickster figure (similar to Coyote or Nanabush). As you can see in the first story, he doesn't really "create" the world from scratch. Instead, he is travelling around - first to the Sky-World and then to the Sea-World - and encountering and interacting with various other beings. The creation of Haida Gwaii - a group o islands West of Prince Rupert (BC) - is only possible after visiting and experiencing various new places (Sky and Sea) and after having received a gift from the old man in the Sea as well as instructions about what to do with it. I think this is a very interesting and important message about the process of creation - and very different from the Western-European and North-American concept.

Photo by Peter Trimming

The Raven is not the only Bird that is important in Haida Mythology. The Eagle is just as important - and often used to (counter-) balance the Raven. Ravens and Eagles are also the two "moieties" in Haida culture: people are either of the Raven or of the Eagle side. Other Birds populate the Haida stories as well, including Grebes, Gulls, and Geese.  Ghandl, for example, tells a wonderful story about a man who got marries to a Goose. The story can be accessed in Swanton's book as well as in Robert Bringhurst's. Gary Snyder has also been fascinated by that particular story and written about it extensively in his book He Who Hunted Birds in his Father's Village.

The Bird who keeps calling at the beginning of Skaay's version of the Raven Myth is neither an Eagle nor a Raven or a Goose but a Loon. The reason why the Loon is calling is the fact that the Haida Gods - or Spirit Beings - are homeless, that is, they have no places to live. The Raven hears the Loon's call and, consequently, promises to create places for the Gods. In other words, it is because of the Loon's calling that the Raven sets out on his journey and finally -- after his visit to the Sky World and to the Sea World -- and with the help of the One in the Sea and his gift -- manages to create Haida Gwaii as dwelling places for the homeless Gods.

Photo by Alan Vernon

Sorry, this post got waywaywaywayway  toooooooooo looooooooong,



  1. I want talk something about Homer, Odyssey and Iliad is myths right?

  2. The Foolish Old Man Removes the Mountains
    The Taihang and Wangwu Mountains, which had a periphery of seven hundred li (1) and were a hundred thousand feet high, originally lay south of Jizhou and north of Heyang.
    The Foolish Old Man of the North Mountain, nearly ninety years of age, lived behind these mountains. He was unhappy about the fact that the mountains blocked his way to the south and he had to walk round them whenever he went our or came back, so he called the whole family together to talk about the matter. " What would you say," he said to them,"if I suggest that all of us work hard to level the two mountains, so as to open a way to places south of Yu Prefecture and the Han River?" Many voices said they agreed to the idea.

    But his wife had her doubts. "With your strength," she said, "you could hardly remove a small hill like Kuifu. What could you do with the Taihang and Wangwu Mountains? Besides, where could you deposit the earth and rocks.?"

    "Carry them to the shores of the Bohai Sea and north of Yintu," said several people.

    The old man, helped by his son and grandson who could carry things, began to break rocks and dig earth, which they carried in baskets and dustbins to the shores of the Bohai Sea. The seven-year-old son of a widow named Jingcheng, one of the old man's neighbours, came running up to offer his help. One trip to the sea took them a long time: they left in winter and came back in summer.

    The Wise Old Man at the River Bend stopped the old man. He laughed and said, "How unwise you are! At your age, old and feeble as you are, you cannot even remove one hair on the mountain, let alone so much earth and so many rocks!"

    The Foolish Old Man of the North Mountain heaved a long sign and said, "You are so conceited that you are blind to reason. Even a widow and a child know better than you. When I die, there will be my sons, who will have their sons and grandsons. Those grandsons will have their sons and grandsons, and so on to infinity. But the mountains will not grow. Why is it impossible to level them?" The Wise Old Man at the River Bend could not answer him.

    The Old Man's words were heard by a god with snakes in his hands. He was afraid that the old man would really level the two mountains, and reported the whole thing to the Heavenly God. Moved by the old man's determination, the Heavenly God ordered the two sons of Kua'ershi to carry the two mountains on their backs and put one east of Shuo and the other south of Yong. After this, there were no more mountains between Jizhou and the Han River.

    from Lie zi (Writings of Lie Yu Kou)

    (1) li: Chinese unit of length.


  3. Wonderful story, Mei Han. Thanks for sharing!

  4. If you haven't checked out the link that Viren posted, please do so. It's a very interesting site!


    Once upon a time, Emperor Hung Vuong the Eighteenth had a beautiful daughter, Princess Mi Nuong. Her beauty was so renowned that many suitors from foreign lands came to ask the Emperor for her hand. However, the Emperor did not believe that any one of them was good enough for his beautiful daughter. He wanted Mi Nuong to marry someone really distinguished and powerful. Her mother, the Empress was very much concerned for Mi Nuong's future. The Empress looked at her daughter saying: "It is time you should get married, my darling. I hope your father will find a suitable man for you".

    The Princess could not hide her emotion and happiness, her beautiful eyes were blurred with tear. She said "Mother, thank you so much for your thoughtfulness. It is up to you and Father to decide for me. I understand that I have to get married and bear children like other women. I believe Father will choose a suitable person".

    One day, at the court there appeared two young men. One of them was Son Tinh, the Mountain Spirit, and the other one was Thuy Tinh, the Sea Spirit. Both of them were equally handsome, distinguished, and powerful. The difference in character between the two men was that while Son Tinh was gentle and quiet, Thuy Tinh had a fiery temper.

    Son Tinh bowed his head and respectfully said to the Emperor: "My name is Son Tinh. My kingdom includes all mountains. I reign over all creatures living on the mountains. I own all the riches of the mountains including all the beautiful trees, plants, and flowers. I can summon lions and birds, I can make the mountains grow high to the sky. I want to marry the Princess and promise to bring her happiness and an eternal life".

    Thuy Tinh stepped forward, bowed his head and said: "My name is Thuy Tinh. I am the Spirit of the Seas. I reign over all creatures living in the water. I own all coral, pearls, and treasures under the sea. I can raise the level of the sea as high as the mountain top. I can make rain and gather storms. If the Princess marries me, she will become the Queen of the Sea. The most wonderful undersea world and the most magnificent undersea palace will be hers".

    The Emperor listened attentively to the suitors. He was reluctant in his choice because both suitors arrived at the same time and were equally handsome and powerful. Then he said to the suitors: "Tomorrow whoever brings the wedding gifts first, will have the hand of the Princess." The suitors left the court and hurried back to their kingdoms in the hope of getting married with the Princess.

    Thuy Tinh had all his men collect the best pearls and jewelry, and the most exquisite sea food and delicious seaweed. Son Tinh rushed back to the mountain. He ordered his men to collect the best diamonds and the most precious stones they could find. He also selected the most delicious fruit and most fragrant flowers on earth for the Emperor and the Empress.

  6. The next morning, Son Tinh and a hundred attendants were the first who came to the court. He brought trays full of jewels and baskets full of mango, grapes, strawberries, roses, orchids, etc. The Emperor was delighted with all the gifts. He agreed to let Son Tinh marry his daughter. Mi Nuong bid farewell to the Emperor and the Empress. Then she stepped into the palaquin and followed Son Tinh to his Kingdom on the mountain.

    Alter Son Tinh and Mi Nuong had just left the court, Thuy Tinh came with his men carrying trays of jewels, pearls, and baskets full of sea food. Thuy Tinh was so angry when he heard Mi Nuong had gone with Son Tinh just minutes before. He immediately ordered his men to pursue Son Tinh and to take Mi Nuong away.

    Thuy Tinh yelled at his men and flourished his magic sword. Then the creatures in the sea turned into thousands of soldiers. Heavy rains began to fall. Gusty winds began to blow. The water level rose higher and higher. The high waves and the flood washed down thousands of trees and houses.

    Son Tinh had his own magic wand, too. He turned the animals on the mountain into thousands of soldiers to fight back. He turned the mountain higher as the water rose. The war between Son Tinh and Thuy Tinh lasted for days. No one won the war. Many lives were lost. Finally, Thuy Tinh and his men ceased and withdrew to the sea.

    However, Thuy Tinh could not give up the idea of taking the Princess back for himself. So, every year Thuy Tinh raises the water and gathers storms up to the mountain top where Son Tinh and Mi Nuong are living. However, he never wins the war. Every year, when the war between the two spirits breaks out, people and animals suffer, crops and properties are destroyed


  7. Great story! Thanks for sharing!

  8. Legend of Pan Gu

    Before the supreme ancestors, the world (not just the earth), was just a big black ball of chaos (also translated to big black egg alot), with no order what so ever. Inside side this chaos there was Pan Gu. He slept in this ball for 18,000 years, and woke one day. When awoken he felt unhappy with his surrounding, so he got an ax (many translations say Broad Ax) and with all his might crack the ball open. When the ball cracked all the light (the good part of the ball) floated up, making the heavens. All the cold and dark stuff stayed below making the earth. Pan Gu was in the middle his feet touched earth but his head touching heaven (understand that earth and heaven are no bigger then a house right now).

    After earth and heaven where formed, they began to grow (about 15 spans a day, or 10 feet a day), and after another 18,000 years earth and heaven were formed. Pan Gu had grown with them and acted as a pillar standing 9 million li (3 million miles) between them so they could never join again.

    When Pan Gu died, his breath became the wind and clouds, his voice the rolling thunder. One eye became the sun and one the moon. His body and limbs turned to five big mountains and his blood formed the roaring water. His veins became far-stretching roads and his muscles fertile land. The innumerable stars in the sky came from his hair and beard, and flowers and trees from his skin and the fine hairs on his body. His marrow turned to jade and pearls. His sweat flowed like the good rain and sweet dew that nurtured all things on earth. According to some versions of the Pan Gu legend, his tears flowed to make rivers and radiance of his eyes turned into thunder and lighting. When he was happy the sun shone, but when he was angry black clouds gathered in the sky. One version of the legend has it that the fleas and lice on his body became the ancestors of mankind.

    There is a saying in China that goes 'Since Pan Gu created earth and the heavens' meaning "a very long time".

    1. Emmm... System problem~

      I'm Youshi Wang, not something unkown...

  9. That's a very famous - and important! - creation story. Thank you very much for sharing it with us, Youshi! Some of the details are really great!

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  11. hello gudrun, i feel so uncertain why my myth didn't come up on the facebook page. So i put my myth again:)

    Jingwei Determines to Fill up the Sea

    On Fajiu Hill grew a lot of mulberry trees. Among them lived a bird which looked like a crow, but had a colourful head, a white bill and two red claws. Its call sounded like its name: Jingwei. The bird was said to be Emperor Yandi's youngest daughter, Nü Wá, who, while playing on the East Sea, had been drowned and never returned. She had turned into Jingwei, and the bird would often carry bits of twigs and stones all the way from the west mountains to the East Sea to fill it up.
    from Shan haijing (Book of Mountains and Seas)

    1. Hello Shunru,
      Your myth did come up on the facebook page as well - at least eventually, but thank you very much for posting it here as well!