the myths of the cherokee
Our first story, ‘How the World Was Made’ is obviously a creation story–how does it compare to similarly themed stories we saw in Gilgamesh and Ovid’s Metamorphoses as well as the perhaps best known creation myth for most of us, the Genesis stories? We see a similar repetition with the end of the world in the final Cherokee story we have, ‘The Deluge,’ yet another flood story.
Given that these four sets of stories were compiled independently and at such great lengths of geography and history, isn’t this amazing?
What details in this first story stand out to you and why?
In ‘The First Fire,’ the Raven is featured–in many Cherokee myths as well as stories told by other peoples in what became the Eastern United States and Canada, Raven is a powerful figure who is intelligent, daring, even a bit of a trickster (in the Western States and Canada, Coyote often plays a similar role in the stories told among diverse peoples of those huge regions)–what do you think of Raven?
Among the interesting elements to this story to me is the role of the council system–we see a little of this among the gods in Gilgamesh and Metamorphoses, but even in those cases, there was often a supreme voice above all overs such as Jove/Zeus, that is absent here. What does that suggest to you?
In ‘The Origin of Game and Corn,’ how does the story of the ‘Wild Boy’ compare to the story of Enkidu? As well, what does it mean that we have a very dangerous influencer here, the Wild Boy is described as a ‘magician’ at times, and that he and the ‘little boy’ kill Selu and release all the game into the world–are they good boys helping the world, or nasty little buggers who can’t leave order well enough alone? How do they compare to Prometheus who was a Titan who defied Zeus and gave humanity fire and other gifts and was then tortured by Zeus to be forever chained to a mountain have a great eagle tear out his liver (Prometheus is immortal, so it grows back) every day? They are smart, dangerous, and wild–but they also bring corn and the hunting songs to the people.
In ‘Origin of Disease and Medicine,’ we again see the council imagery, but here among the Bears and the Deer first and then all the other animals and plants in turn–what do you think it means to us that the Cherokee stories are often so focused, at least as far as the stories we have here, on ‘councils’ as legislative bodies rather than despotic ruler kings/gods?
Throughout the stories, we see example after example of the stories working to try to explain the natural world as best as the people can–where the constellations come from, what the Milky Way is, how the sun rises and sets, etc. The details are of course quite different from Greek myths or other stories, but the mechanics of the people trying to explain their world is basically the same–when in doubt, people across the spectrum of human experiences, environments, and historical periods create narratives–what does all this mean to you?