A.M.'s Myth and Folklore Blog

Myth and Folklore ML-3043-996

Month: October 2019 (page 1 of 2)

Week 11 Story: Red Threads

Grandmother always weaved from the top, bringing line over line and thread through thread, starting in the heavens and descending towards Earth.

She always kept the top high up too, never turning the weaving to ease her approach.

“If I turn the weaving upside down, why, then the sky will be at the ground and the ground in the sky, and we should all fall towards the Sun, dear child.”

First she wove the sky and the sun and the clouds of the highest reaches of the light. The she moved down, and the top of the rainbow was finally seen.

That year, the hunting was good and the winds warm; my sister was born and big brother went to hunt for the first time. The rainbow was bright and strong and curved downwards in beauty and control.

As the weaving grew downwards I grew up towards. One day, we met in the middle as the highest hills in the background first showed their tops, and still the rainbow curved down.

But then the rainbow began to droop, heavy under its own weight. Grandmother too began to stoop, her movements slower, her speech more careful.

The rainbow no longer curved to the side, but grew down, down towards the ground. Towards what, I did not know.

I hunted for the first time that year. I tripped in a crag of the rock and slammed my arm into a cactus, its thorns piercing my skin and drawing blood. Grandmother added the final inches of the weaving that year: the rainbow, unable to move for weariness, coming down to meet the cacti on the ground, as they hungrily drew red color from it.

Grandmother died that winter.

The camp is surrounded by cacti and their flowers glow like flames. Today, my son was born.

Author’s Note: I was inspired by the image above, from the course textbook entry for the story I adapted, which is a Tejas legend from the book When the Storm God Rides: Tejas and Other Indian Legends. (Via the course blog.)

In the original story, the tale is told of how the Cactus flower got its color by robbing the rainbow, who, after a hard rain, was too waterlogged to maneuver to avoid its touch.

There are details I wish I could have gotten right — I had a very hard time finding details about the Tejas way of life or their language, since I have very limited knowledge in these things and the answers weren’t trivially accessible. Still, I hope the essence of the story is worth the reading.

Week 11 Reading: Tejas Readings Part B

Source: When the Storm God Rides: Tejas and Other Indian Legends via the course blog.

  • For these reading notes, I chose to focus on the story of “When the Rainbow Was Torn”
  • This story tells of how the Cactus Flower, which has orange, red, and yellow parts — some of the many colors of the rainbow — came to have these.
  • The cactus flowers, which were once white, were wont to turn themselves towards the sky and look at the rainbow when it graced it.
  • The rainbow would always touch the ground in two places, but was afraid of the cactus’ thorns and never touched its flowers, despite their ardent wishes.
  • At one time, there was a great rainstorm, and as the rainbow came down it was so waterlogged that it was unable to control its descent.
  • So, the rainbow came into contact with the cactus flowers, which grasped at its colorful threads and tried to hold them captive.
  • The rainbow fled, trying to escape, and indeed the blue, violet, and indigo strands it could clear, but the red, yellow, and orange could not escape before the flowers grasped and tore off some part of them.
  • And so, as a result, the Cactus Flower has the three colors from the rainbow, and still looks ever more to the heavens in pursuit of the others.
A weaving of the rainbow coming down. (Image from the course blog.)

Week 11 Reading: Tejas Readings Part A

Source: When the Storm God Rides: Tejas and Other Indian Legends via the course blog.

  • For these reading notes I’ve chosen to focus on the story of “How the North Wind Lost His Hair.”
  • The north wind is personified, and we learn that he does not come into the south for fear of the young and strong south wind.
  • Nobody in the South liked the North Wind either, for he was cold and would make the tribes shiver. Once, he came and would not leave, preventing the warm south wind from returning from the Gulf.
  • Eventually, the South wind grew impatient and came to fight the North wind; they fought for a long time, tearing up trees and dissolving clouds.
  • Eventually, the south wind gained the upper hand, besting the old and tired north wind. He grasped the north wind by the hair and began to spin him around, and around, and around.
  • Eventually the hair came off of the old North wind’s head, and he fled back to the north.
  • The south wind was left holding the North wind’s hair, and he bagan to dance around, laying it over the trees, where the hair took root and began to grow.
  • Today, we know this plant as Spanish Moss, and now when the north wind sees the moss, he flees as quickly as he can back to the north, giving us the seasons.
Spanish Moss. (Image from Wikipedia.)

Week 10 Reading: Native American, Blackfoot Stories

Source: Blackfeet Indian Stories via the course UnTextbook.

  • For these reading notes, I chose to focus on the story “The Camp of the Ghosts”
  • A young couple who are deeply in love have a child, but the wife grows ill soon after. Her sickness is prolonged, cannot be cured, and eventually she dies, leaving her husband bereft.
  • Eventually, the husband can take his grief no longer, and, leaving their child in the care of his mother, goes off into the world to find his dead wife and bring her back.
  • He eventually comes to the lodge of an old woman who tells him that, beyond the next hill, there lives another woman who can give him the power he needs to journey to the camp of the ghosts, which lies further still in that direction.
  • The second old woman promises her aid, places her powers in service of the young man’s quest, and instructs him: he must not open his eyes when he reaches the camp of the ghosts.
  • When he arrives, the ghosts of the young man’s relatives are gathered to a feast in his honor, and, taking pity on him, the chief of the ghosts offers a deal: he will stay in the camp for four nights, and at the end of that period he will be sent home with his wife.
  • When the time comes, he leaves, and is told that he must keep his eyes closed for the first four days of the journey, at the end of which his wife will turn back from ghost to person, and he may then look.
  • His father also warns him that he must build a sweat-house before reentering the camp of the living to remove the aura of the ghosts from himself.
  • His dead father also warns him never to raise a hand against his wife, or she will return immediately to the camp of ghosts.
  • They do as instructed, and successfully regain the land of the living.
  • But later, the man moves to threaten his wife, and she disappears, never to be seen again.
Blackfoot Teepees in 1933. (Image from Wikipedia.)

Week 10 Reading: Alaska Native Stories, Part A

Source: The First Woman (an Eskimo story), via the course UnTextbook.

  • At the beginning of time, there are many men but only one woman who lives in the south.
  • Eventually, the men grow lonely, and one of particular initiative goes on a long journey to the south, eventually finding the one woman and marrying her.
  • The son of the chief of the men (the mechanics of such a relationship in a world without women are not explained) is furious that this other man would have a wife before him, and goes down to fight him.
  • They argue over the one woman and the chief’s son grasps the woman by the shoulders and tries to drag her away, but her husband grasps her legs.
  • As they grapple and pull her to-and-fro, they eventually pull her apart at the middle, spiting the first woman into two.
  • This, the story says, explains why the women in the south are good dancers — made from the lower half — and those in the north are clever with their hands — made from the upper half.
Two Eskimo Women. (From the UnTextbook.)

Week 8 Review: Progress

So far, I’m happy with my progress in the course. Though I’m a week “behind” on the Project, I’m still on track to both finish my project and get the grade I’d like at the end of the semester. As a result, I don’t think there’s really anything I need or want to change about my overall approach to the class in the remaining weeks.

(Though, of course, I’ll express a desire to work ahead, even though I know it’s unlikely my schedule will allow me to do so.)

Things are speeding up for the rest of the semester… (Image from Wikipedia.)

Week 8 Review: Comments and Feedback

I’ve been getting great feedback so far in this class, and I’ve even started to recognize a set of regulars on my blog who keep coming back for more, and whose feedback only gets better and better. (Now why they keep coming back is beyond me.) In particular, they’ve helped me to reign in my tendency to assume that the reader has kept track of some minor piece of information or structure that I may never even have remembered to explicitly introduce.

I also think I’ve been giving fairly helpful feedback. While there are often many little technicalities I could mention in feedback, I try to concentrate on potential structural reorganizations or refinements, which I think are often the hardest thing for the writer of a text to see, since they can become so deeply involved in its details.

I do feel that I’m starting to come to know people through the exchanges of comments, though that’s probably biased by the fact that I already knew a couple of people in the class before.

As to my favorite feedback cat, so far I’d say it’s this one:

(From here.)

This is fresh in my mind after getting some great feedback on my Storybook introduction; while everyone had something different to say, they were all confused by the same aspect of my introduction (though they expressed it in different ways, and one wasn’t even aware that they were confused! — only the pattern let me see that they were). By seeing this persistent pattern in my responses, I knew what the most important thing for me to address in my revisions was.

Week 8 Review: Reading and Writing

Overall, I am quite happy with my reading and writing in the class so far.

I think — and my classmates seem to agree — that my storybook website is in pretty good shape, and while my blog layout is nothing special, I think it works well. (Honestly, I dislike blogs that have too much going on in terms of color and font: I think it makes the actual task of reading much, much more difficult than it needs to be.)

I’m fairly happy with my storytelling posts so far. I’ve taken a much lighter, more humorous approach than I took for my weekly stories in Indian Epics, which I’ve enjoyed, though I’m considering trying to write a few stories with more serious tone. Still, that depends on what inspiration comes to me week-by-week, and so far I’ve just found more humor than deep pathos. Maybe I’m accidentally choosing readings that skew that way…

My storybook is going well, but the topic and themes I’ve chosen are quite subtle and difficult, and I’m very much wrestling with the balance between making a meaningful philosophical argument and telling an accessible, good story. While my introduction, as it’s meant to, leans much more into the themes, I think I’ll need to be careful going forward to make sure that there’s enough easy-to-follow story in there too.

Favorite Image (from my Week 6 Storybook Research):
“VLBI (very-long-baseline interferometry) radio telescopes at the Atacama Large Millimeter Array. (Image from Wikipedia.)”

I just love this image; the shape of the telescopes, the incredible beauty of the starry sky, the juxtaposition of Nature and science.

Week 7 Story: So Much for That

One time in a corner of the world, a goose and a mongoose walked along the bank of a raging river.

“Only a goose can swim in such turbulent waters” said the goose.

“I am a mongoose, and so, being more than a goose, I too can swim in such waters” said the mongoose.

And so the mongoose dove in, and, being more or less a sort of carnivorous rodent, drowned.

So much for the sin of delusion.

One time in a corner of the world, there was a foolish but kind king who delegated much of the work of ruling to his ministers. His ministers, however, were cruel, and passed many villainous acts on his behalf. Each day the ministers would bring their decrees to the absentminded king, who would stamp each in turn with his signet ring.

One day the cruelest of the ministers decided to remove the middleman and steal the signet ring for himself. He planned with great care and eventually found himself before the signet ring, unguarded, in the king’s private chambers. Upon taking it into his hand, a hole opened in the ceiling and deposited a quite enormous cucumber onto him, crushing him.

So much for the sin of theft.

One time in a corner of the world, two old men, one kindhearted and one covetous, lived as neighbors. One day, the kindhearted man found an injured bird in his garden, and nursed it back to health. Later, the bird brought him a special seed that in time grew into an enormous squash, which the kind old man found to be made of solid gold.

The covetous neighbor, jealous of this fortune, asked how it was acquired and schemed to replicate the process: he shot down a bird into his garden, nursed it back to health, and did, eventually, receive a seed.

In time, the seed grew, as before, into an enormous squash. But when the greedy old man went to cut open the squash it parted, and, from its insides sprang a fierce old man.

The fierce old man produced a large measuring scale and preceded to violently measure the greedy man, finally proclaiming that he was of no use at all. He then cut off the greedy old man’s head.

So much for the sin of covetousness.

Quite important to ethics, as far as I can tell. (Image from Wikipedia.)

Story Source: “The Golden Squash,” from Albert Shelton’s book of Tibetan folk tales, via the course UnTextbook.

Author’s Note: This story was inspired by the rather strange (to my mind) about-face turn in tone in the translation of one of the Tibetan folk tales. (Which inspired the third segment of this story.) The random and bizarre form of the punishment metered out on the tale’s antagonist — a greedy old man who tries to scheme his way into supernatural rewards — inspired me to make some gentle fun of the often ridiculous, random, and even silly ways the punishment is delivered in many moral tales. (While at the same time emphasizing the age-old tropes and forms that often set up those same stories.)

The bookend phrases: “One time in a corner of the world” and “So much for the sin of ____” are both taken directly from the source story. And the “fierce old man” is straight from the source as well.

Week 7 Reading: Tibetan Folk Tales, Part B

Source:Tibetan Folk Tales, by Albert Shelton. From the course UnTextbook.

The kind old man with the bird. (Image from the course UnTextbook.)
  • For these reading notes I decided to focus on the story of “The Golden Squash.”
  • This story starts of predictably and ends in an almost surreal fashion — I rather like the bizzare stylistic twist and the nonchalant ending:
    “So much for the sin of covetousness.”
  • A summary:
    • Two old men live humbly in plots next to one another. One is kindhearted and generous, while the other is greedy and desires riches above all else.
    • One day, an injured bird comes to land in the kind old man’s garden, where he discovers it in pain. He takes in the bird and cares for it, nursing it back to health.
    • Eventually, having recovered and been released, the bird returns to the kind old man with a special seed, telling him that it will, in time, grow into a very good squash.
    • The kind man plants the seed and, indeed, come harvest season a single, enormous squash has grown, taking the efforts of several men to even get it into the old man’s house.
    • Upon later attempting to cut into the squash to prepare dinner, the kind old man discovers that the squash is made from solid gold, and goes on to live a prosperous but humble life, giving generously to the poor and needy.
    • His neighbor, witnessing this chain of events, asks the kind old man how he came to such riches, and, upon hearing the story, devises a devious plan: he shoots down a bird into his garden and, pretending concern, nurses it back to health.
    • The bird, as the original had done, returns to the greedy old man with a seed. The greedy man plants it with glee, and, in time, another enormous squash is harvested and brought with difficulty into the cottage.
    • Eagerly, the greedy old man goes to cut into the squash, but rather than finding it to be made of solid gold, he finds instead a great empty cavity from which a fierce man springs.
    • (Now things get suddenly and briefly strange.)
    • The new, fierce man says that he was sent by the “king of the lower regions” (some kind of devil?) to “weigh him.” He produces a scale and proceeds to weigh the greedy old man, eventually pronouncing him of “no use at all.”
    • Without fanfare, the fierce man then decapitates the greedy man.
    • The narrator, fairly unconcerned by this turn of events, concludes:
      “So much for the sin of covetousness.”

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