Literally "The Holder of the Heavens," the mythos of the Iroquois holds the deity Tarenyawagon as their true Creator. He created man and bestowed on the human race all of the blessings which they enjoy, so the legend goes, and then lived among them under the name of Hiawatha. He is also known as "the sender of dreams," and (to stir confusion into the historic accounts) more than one Iroquois leaders was known to have been named for him.

In many ways, the Tarenyawagon mythos reflects common elements of Western scriptural accounts. Tarenyawagon, after creating man, gives his children the traditional admonition to be wary of evil spirits (although, not being the Creator of the Universe itself, Tarenyawagon cannot be tarred with the brush of having created these evil spirits). Tarenyawagon provided for the sustenance of the people as well, giving them staple crops (corn and beans, potatoes and squash) as well as tobacco (in retrospect, not such a good idea), and vitally providing them with the hunting dog to help along man's more carnivorous endeavors.

Tarenyawagon then directed the people to split into six groups, and directed each group to a different especially fertile spot from which that group would prosper, while instructing the groups to keep a common tongue and maintain an alliance with one another against the other groups with whom they competed. But this division does not seem to correspond exactly to the later six-nations Iroquois Confederacy. Instead it appears, in the myth in any event, that one group accidentally got split in two when a grapevine broke as the group used it cross a river; and that those who made it across lost contact with the others, and eventually returned as enemies.

The aspect of Tarenyawagon becoming the human Hiawatha is an interesting twist on the story -- for though he is, as a man, the wisest of men and possessed of a magical canoe and other such implements, he is unable to prevent the death of the beloved daughter he has fathered while in human form, and is for a time inconsolable thereafter. But ultimately he does recover from this blow, observing that not even he can turn the course set by the Great Spirit; and so Tarenyawagon essentially allows himself to be taken bodily into the next world. It is interesting how this mythology contains elements common to various mythos of the peoples of Asia, Europe, and Africa, despite lacking the lines of communication connecting those three continents -- a Creator of man envisioned as himself being a man, one who first instructs from above and then becomes one with humankind -- and yet, despite godhood, experiences, like other men, something akin to death (and, perhaps, rebirth into an afterlife).


Noded for An August FactQuest. For further reading:

Tarenyawagon or Hiawatha (a posting on a genealogy website with a much more extensive telling of the myth).

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