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An Introduction to Mythology

Page: 137

Several proved analogies between the worship of the 'Mound-builders' and the Indians exist: for example, there is unmistakable evidence that one of the sacred altars of 'Mound City' was specially devoted to nicotian rites and offerings. The discarded stones, also, found in the mound country are the same as those used by the Muskhogean people in the name of chunkey, which has probably a solar significance.

Like the other Muskhogean tribes, the Choctaws believed that before the Creation a great body of water alone was visible. Two pigeons flew to and fro over its waves, and at last espied a blade of grass rising above the surface. Dry land gradually followed, and the islands and mainland took their present shapes. In the centre of the hill Nunne Chaha, already mentioned, was a cave, the house of the Master of Breath (Esaugetuh Emissee). There he took clay, and fashioned the first men; and, as at that period the waters covered the earth, he raised a great wall[Pg 307] to dry them on. When the soft mud had hardened into flesh and bone, he directed the waters to their present places, and gave the dry land to the men he had made. The fact that the Choctaws were divided into eight clans has been cited by Brinton[5] in confirmation of the view that the myth of their origin was akin to those American legends which give to the majority of the Indian tribes a descent from four or eight brothers who emanated from a cave. Such a myth was in vogue among the Tupi-Guarani of Brazil, the Muyscas of Bogota, the Nahua of Mexico, and many other tribes. They possessed an ancient tradition that the present world will be consumed by a general conflagration, after which it will be made a much more pleasant place than it now is, and that then the spirits of the dead will return to the bones in the bone-mound, become covered with flesh, and once more occupy their ancient territory.

The Choctaws believe that after death those "who have behaved well" are taken under the care of Esaugetuh Emissee ('Master of Breath') and well looked after; that those who have behaved ill are left "to shift for themselves"; and that there is no further punishment. They also believe that when they die the spirit flies westward "as the sun goes," and there joins its family and friends "who went before it." They do not believe in a place of punishment, or in any infernal power.

Although the sun appears to have been their chief deity, the Choctaws conceived Esaugetuh Emissee, or the 'Master of Breath,' as the creative agency, at least where man was concerned, so that he may have acted as a demiurge. This deity has many counterparts in American mythologies, and appears to be the personification of the wind, the name being onomatopoetic. The deification of the wind as soul or breath is common to many mythologies.

We see a totemic significance in the fact that the alligator was worshipped, or at least venerated, by the coast and river tribes of the Muskhogeans, and never by any chance destroyed by them. The myth of the horned serpent was also in vogue[Pg 308] among them, and was practically identical with that told by the Cherokees to Lieutenant Timberlake; and the charm which they presented to their young men when they set out on the war-path was composed of the bones of the panther and the horn of the fabulous horned snake.


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