The Creation
- according to the oral traditions of the Iroquois people

See Also: Tales of the Iroquois

Note: Ideally, the best way for this story to be communicated is in the Old Way - elders gathered with their younger relatives, during the colder months, educating each other within the family circle. The written word can only convey a part of the richness of a story such as this. However, in trying to convey the rhythm of the oral tradition, I have broken the story into small pieces. Enjoy.

Many Winters in the past (arrow going backward)

the Earth was entirely covered by a great blanket of water. There was no sun, moon, or stars and so there was no light. All was darkness.

At that time, the only living creatures of the world were water animals such as the beaver, muskrat, duck and loon.

Far above earth was the Land of Happy Spirits where lived Rawennio, the Great Ruler. In the center of this upper world was a giant tree.

This great tree was an apple tree whose roots sank deep into the ground.

One say, Rawennio pulled this giant tree up by its roots.

The Great Spirit called his daughter who lived in the Upper World and commanded her to look into the pit by the uprooted tree.

This women, who was to be the mother of the Good and Evil Spirits, came and looked into the hole by the uprooted tree.

She saw far below her the Lower World covered with water and surrounded by heavy clouds.

"You are to go to this world of darkness," said the Great Spirit. Gently lifting her, he dropped her into the hole.

She floated downward.

Far below on the dark water floated the water animals. Looking upward, they saw a great light, which was the Sky Woman, slowly falling toward them.

Because her body shone as a great light they were frightened.

Fear filled their hearts and they dove beheath the deep waters.

But upon coming to the surface again, they lost their fear. They began to plan what they would do for the woman when she reached the water.

"We must find a dry place for her to rest on," said the beaver, and he plunged beneath the water in search of some earth. After a long time, the beaver's dead body floated to the top of the water.

The loon tried next, but his body never came to the surface of the water. Many of the other water creatures dived, but all failed to secure any earth.

Finally, the muskrat went below and after a long time, his dead body floated to the surface of the water. His little claws were closed tight. Upon opening them, a little earth was found.

The water creatures took this earth, and calling a great turtle, they patted the earth firmly on her broad back. Immediately, the turtle started to grow larger. The earth also increased.

This earth became North America, a great island. Sometimes the earth cracks and shakes, and waves beat hard against the seashore. White people say, "Earthquake". The Mohawks say, "Turtle is stretching."

The Sky Woman had now almost reached the earth. "We must fly up and let her rest upon our backs so as to make her landing easy," said the chief of the white swans. Flying upward, a great flock of white swans allowed the Sky Woman to rest upon their backs. Gently, they bore her to earth.

After a time, the Sky Woman gave birth to twins. One who became the Good Spirit was born first. The other, the Evil Spirit, while being born, caused his mother so much pain that she died during his birth.

The Good Spirit immediately took his mother's head and hung it in the sky. It became the sun. The Good Spirit, from his mother's body, fashioned the moon and stars and placed them in the sky.

The rest of his mother's body he buried under the earth. That is why living things find nourishment from the soil. They spring from Mother Earth.

The Evil Spirit put darkness in the west sky to drive the sun before it.

The Good Spirit created many things which he placed upon the earth. The Evil Spirit tried to undo the work of his brother by creating evil. The Good Spirit made tall and beautiful trees such as the pine and hemlock.

The Evil Spirit stunted some trees. In others, he put knots and gnarls. He covered some with thorns, and placed poison fruit on them.

The Good Spirit made animals such as the deer and the bear.

The Evil Spirit made poisonous animals, lizards, and serpents to destroy the animals of the Good Spirit's creation.

The Good Spirit made springs and streams of good, pure water.

The Evil Spirit breathed poison into many of the springs. He put snakes into others.

The Good Spirit made beautiful rivers protected by high hills.

The Evil Spirit pushed rocks and dirt into the rivers causing the current to become swift and dangerous. Everything that the Good Spirit made, his wicked brother tried to destroy.

Finally, when the earth was completed, the Good Spirit fashioned man out of some red clay. He placed man upon the earth, and told him how he should live. The Evil Spirit, not to be outdone, fashioned a creature out of the white foam of the sea. What he made was the monkey.

After mankind and the other creatures of the world were created, the Good Spirit bestowed a protecting spirit upon each of his creations.

He then called the Evil Spirit, and told him that he must cease making trouble upon the earth. This the Evil Spirit refused to do. The Good Spirit became very angry with his wicked brother. He challenged his brother to combat, the victor to become ruler of the earth. They used the thorns of a giant apple tree as weapons.

They fought for many suns. (days)

Finally, the Evil Spirit was overcome.

The Good Spirit now became ruler over the earth. He banished his wicked brother to a dark cave under the earth. There he must always remain.

But the Evil Spirit has wicked servants who roam the earth. These wicked spirits can take the shape of any creature that the Evil Spirit desires them to take. They are constantly influencing the minds of men, thus causing men to do evil things.

That is why every person has both a bad heart and a good heart. No matter how good a man seems, he has some evil. No matter how bad a man seems, there is some good about him. No man is perfect.

The Good Spirit continues to create and protect mankind. He controls the spirits of good men after death. The Evil Spirit takes charge of the souls of wicked men after death.

Note: The purpose of this legend, as was told by the old Iroquois, was to point out to the listener that there is something good in the worst of us, and something evil in the best of us - no person is perfect. No man has the right to judge another - that right is for the Great Spirit alone.

Please do not reprint this without asking.