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An Introduction to Mythology

Page: 76

"The American system, as we see, begins with an unknown, great, indefinite number of uncreated beings—in other words, of self-existent personages or divinities. Those divinities were everything at first; there was nothing except them, nothing aside from them, nothing beyond them. They existed unchanged through untold periods, or rather through a duration which would be periods were there a measure by which to divide it. They lived side by side in perfect concord, in the repose of a primeval chaos of quiescent mind which presents a most remarkable analogy with the attenuated, quiescent, undifferentiated matter which, according to the nebular hypothesis, filled all points of space in the physical universe before the first impulse of motion was given to it.

"At last this long period is ended, there is mental difference among most of the first people, character is evolved[Pg 176] and has become evident; rivalries, collisions, and conflicts begin.

"The American creation myths, as far as we know them, form simply a series of accounts of the conflicts, happenings, and various methods by which the first world was changed into the world now existing. This change was effected in various ways. In the myths of certain tribes or nations, it is mainly by struggles between hostile personages. One god of great power and character overcomes a vast number of opponents, and changes each into some beast, bird, plant, or insect; but always the resultant beast or other creature corresponds in some power of mind or in some leading quality of character with the god from whose position it has fallen. In certain single cases opponents are closely matched, they are nearly equal in combat; the struggle between them is long, uncertain, and difficult. At last, when one side is triumphant, the victor says, I Hereafter you shall be nothing but a——'; and he tells what the vanquished is to be. But at this point the vanquished turns on the victor and sends his retort like a Parthian arrow, 'You shall be nothing but a——'; and he declares what his enemy is to be. The metamorphosis takes place immediately on both sides, and each departs in the form which the enemy seemed to impose, but which really belonged to him....

"With the transformation of the last of the first people or divinities, which was finished only when the Indians or some sign of them appeared in every remote nook and corner in which a remnant of the first people had taken refuge, the present order of things is established completely. There are now in the world individualities of three distinct sets and orders. First, that small number of the first people whose minds had never changed, those gods who withdrew and who live in their original integrity and harmony, who retired to places outside the sky or above it; second, the great majority of the gods, who have become everything in the present world save and except only Indians. This cycle finished, there is a new point of departure, and we meet a second group of myths concerning the existent world as it is now with its happenings—myths containing accounts of conflicts which are ever recurrent,[Pg 177] which began before all the first people were metamorphosed, conflicts which are going on at present and which will go on forever; struggles between light and darkness, heat and cold, summer and winter, struggles between winds that blow in opposite directions—in fact, accounts of various phenomena and processes which attract the attention of savage men more than others because savage men are living face to face with them always.


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