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Native North American Mythologies

Earth Divers and Emergers

What is the Oneida creation myth?

In the beginning, the Oneida say, earth did not exist; there was only the upper world and the primordial waters containing water animals below. The spirits lived in the upper world with the Great Spirit. One day the Great Spirit decided to uproot the great apple tree—a kind of world tree—that grew in the upper world. In its place was a gaping hole. The Great Spirit asked his daughter to go down through the hole to the waters below. In fact, he dropped his daughter—now we can call her Sky Woman—through the hole, and she slowly floated down toward the waters. From below, the animals saw her coming, shining like a star, and they realized she would need a dry landing place. So Beaver dove down into the waters hoping to find some soil, but he drowned. After several animals tried and failed, Muskrat succeeded in diving and bringing up the necessary earth. But he, too, died in the process. Turtle agreed to have the bit of earth placed on his back, and immediately it expanded into what is now North America. Sky Woman landed there and gave birth to twins—one good and one bad. The bad twin was so bad that Sky Woman died giving birth to him. But the good twin made good use of his mother’s body, making her literally the world parent. He made her head the sun and other parts the moon and stars. The rest of her body he buried in the earth, making the soil fertile. From the soil he raised plants, but the bad twin put thorns on the plants. He made deer and bear, but the evil twin made poisonous snakes. When the good twin made humans out of the clay of his mother’s earth, the bad twin made monkeys to mock them. After a long fight between the twins, the good twin prevailed and his brother was sent to a dark underground cave, from which he continued to send up problems for the world.



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