The Iroquois creation myth has been around since at least 1142 A. D. in the Iroquois nation in North America, in what is now known as New York, Quebec, and Ontario. While the minor details may change depending on who tells you the story, the main premise remains the same. Each story describes the planet pre-dating humans as an unlimited expanse of water with no land in sight, with the humans inhabited a place in the high-reaches of the sky where the forests were forests were full of game, rivers full of fish, and fields producing vegetables.
The inhabitants of this place were unfamiliar with death, sickness, pain, and the thoughts of hate, jealously, malice, and revenge. (Wonderley 2004, 62) The story tells of a wife – who is usually pregnant – that is pushed down a hole by her husband and falls to what was to become earth. As she falls, the Loon swimming in the water below is alerted to her presence and alerts the other animals that she is approaching. Knowing that earth was needed for the humans accommodation, the animals chose the turtle to bear the weight of the world on his shell, and animals set off into the depths in order to retrieve the earth for the turtles back.
Eventually, the woman had an island that was continually growing where she could live. She eventually gave birth to twins named Tau-lon-ghy-au-wan-goon and Than-wisk-a-law who represented good and evil, respectively. (Wonderley 2004, 65) As the twins grew, they filled the earth with their creations, while using this as competition. The good twin is often told as giving us plant species and animals that are beneficial, with the bad twin created thorns around the bushes and dangerous animals.
As the competition between the twins grew, the evil twin was killed and thrown off the edge of the earth, where he was to preside over the night and the lower world, while the good twin presided over day and the upper world. One of the more recurring themes in this creation myth is that of animals and nature in general. The sky land is depicted to have much game, fish, and fields full of vegetables – while the mother of the twins was received and accommodated by the animals already inhabiting the water, where the turtle put the earth on his shell.
Animals and nature are further included as their creation is the main source of competition between the twins. The land where people originate in this creation myth is no doubt a depiction of the ideal land for the Iroquois, and the role of nature can be explained by the respect the Iroquois have for the environment – as it is an important part of their way of life. The twins also illustrate the struggle between good and evil, but do so in relative terms rather then absolute terms.
The twins’ relationship is about cooperation through competition, and symbolizes the balance that the Iroquois believe to be necessary for the world to be in balance. Since the twins are believed to be the source of this balance, they are considered the deities within this story, showing the Iroquois hold a being to be greater then themselves. The role of each twin is represented in Iroquois festivities, with day activities being devoted to the good twin, and night activities being devoted to the bad twin.
The Iroquois creation myth can have minor differences depending on who tells it, as the 6 nations making up the Iroquois covered a sizeable amount of land and have quite a history. The Iroquois creation myth gives the Iroquois people a guide for their priorities, with the well being of them and the well being of nature in a being held in balance at the fore front. This idea is still relevant today within Iroquois ceremonies, showing that the creation myth of a whole has been carried with the Iroquois people, at least in a traditional sense.
Courtney from Study Moose
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