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Posted on Sunday, May 21 - 2006

" Many Native American myths could equally be called folktales: they seem to be about ordinary people, not gods. However, the Native American attitude is that everything is animated by divinity. Hence ordinary people, animals and places are divine. Often the people are not even named, or are..."

Many Native American myths could equally be called folktales: they seem to be about ordinary people, not gods. However, the Native American attitude is that everything is animated by divinity. Hence ordinary people, animals and places are divine. Often the people are not even named, or are given a convenient tag, such as Rabbit Boy – raised by rabbits. Nor is there much attempt to characterize them. Universal principles are held to be more important than individual traits.Whereas Greek myths were shaped and ordered by classical authors, few Native American myths were written down before the late 19th century. Thus the apparent inconsistencies of the right-brain oral tradition are still very much present.

Native American spirituality: Among all tribes there is a strong sense that behind all individual spirits and personifications of the divine, there is a single creative life-force, sometimes called ‘the Great Mystery’, which expresses itself throughout the universe, in every human, animal, tree and grain of sand. Every story, too, is a working out of this life-force.

The role of animals: An aspect of this outlook is the major role played in the stories by animals, who often speak to humans and assist them. Most tribes thought of individual members of a species as expressions of the spiritual archetype of that species, which in turn embodied a particular spirit power.

The Four Directions: Another key feature of the Native American spiritual outlook is found in the powers ascribed to the Four Directions, which occur either literally or in symbolic form throughout the stories. These are often represented by particular colours, or by animals. The Four Directions have to be in balance for all to be well with the world, and often a central point of balance is identified as a fifth direction; for example, four brothers represent the outer directions, and their sister the centre.

Narrative types: Native American myths include all the types found worldwide, such as stories of creation, and of heroic journeys. However, they are particularly rich in ‘trickster’ myths. Notable examples are Coyote and Iktome. The trickster is an ambiguous figure who demonstrates the qualities of early human development (both cultural and psychological) that make civilization possible, and yet which cause problems. He is an expression of the least developed stage of life, which is dominated by physical appetites.


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