A New World
In our travels through the mythologies of the planet, we learned about remains found buried under frozen lands in Europe and Asia and followed belief systems across mountains to Mediterranean lands.. We conversed about the multitude of natural spirits from the islands of Great Britain and Ireland. We explored the spiritual thoughts and lives of those in the Far East and Middle East. We then went to the cradle of civilization, the area where it is believed the first beings walked. In Africa mankind flourished and the number of cultures blossomed. We then traveled to lands down under and island hopped across the Pacific, seeing the joy in living these ancient cultures expressed through their aboriginal art and music. Now we are in the newest of all cultures, exploring what, in terms of the earth, are the babies of cultures.
The two continents of North and South America have always been called the New World. Once never imagined to a world civilization that imagined a flat earth and later described the unknown as region as “Here there be dragons”, these two continents represented a different world. They are the only two inhabited continents in which all ethnic groups were immigrants. Regardless of the lands they came from and the cultures they recreated here, they then had to survive countless invasions.
Creation myths of the two Americas can be put into two categories. One includes those of the Mayans and Aztecs we’ve already discussed, myths that cover the creation of the world. The Mayan myths utilize beautiful poetry to describe the efforts of their deities in fashioning a mankind they found pleasing. The Aztec myths have a more international connection. The series of world created and discarded in the Aztec tales are similar to the Greek ages of man and the four age of man the myths of India proclaim. The Aztecs also incorporated blood sacrifice into their stories, sacrifices comparable to those of the early Jewish histories. Like the Mayans, poetry also played an important role with the Aztecs. The other category of creation myths emanating from these two continents is more culture specific and focuses on the creation of a particular ethnicity.
I need to pause at this juncture and mention the beautiful islands of Caribbean. They too were settles by native of other lands. We will not focus on myths of this region, though, because the travelers to these islands not only brought their culture, they also brought their myths. And, being as they were on islands, these myths remained true to their original versions. In other words, we have already discussed these stories that were the result of ships from England, Spain, and Africa. IN the Caribbean the emphasis was not so much on where they came from but in how they were living, the spirituality of now.
So who were these emigrants to this New World and where did they come from? In Canada they are called “First Families”. In the United States they are known as American Indians due to erroneous beliefs that they came from India; most likely they came from the area of the Caucus Mountains, often under Russian rule. (A myth about the discovery of North America tells that the Italian explorer sailing under the Spanish flag Christopher Columbus landed on a Caribbean island thinking he’d reached India, proclaiming the natives as “Indians”.) In the southern hemisphere they are simply tribes of history, people who met the Spanish and Portuguese and who learned to live in the varied landscapes of their continent. Archaeologists tell us that these groups all are related, their ancestors having crossed the Bering Straits from the Asian continent to what is today known as Alaska over thirty thousand years ago. Some followed the Pacific coastline and continued through Central America to South America. Others traveled east to settle on the Atlantic coast and then move south.
One myth from these ancient immigrants tells of twelve brothers. Their families became argumentative and so the brothers scattered to the four corners of the world so that each might have their own lands to rule. I find it very interesting how often the number twelve reappears in the myths of the world. Considered a “perfect number”, twelve does seem to pop up wherever we go. The Sumerians developed a twelve-month calendar based upon the twelve lunar months, the twelve times the world has a full moon in a year’s time. They also divided a day into twelve hours with six being in perfect sunlight. Twelve is also found in the Bible, including the twelve sons of Joseph and the twelve disciples of Jesus of Nazareth.
Yesterday we explored the Aztec creation myths – at least five of them. Like those of the Incas, the Navajo, and the Iroquois, these stories tell the origins of their ethnicity. Like other cultures, there are other myths such as fertility myths and those of a protector deity, a caring god. The Algonquin myths feature a need to control their environment while the Inuit wanted to placate their deity.
Perhaps it is in the Americas that the mythologies of the world come together. Each tribe considered themselves a separate entity, a separate culture. While today some may lump them together as tribes of American Indians, they saw themselves as unique being. I like that because, after all, each of us is our own being and we are all unique. I find it sad how easily people are categorized without civilization really seeing them for who they are.
Henry David Thoreau said it much better than I ever could. “Each second we live is a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that will never be again. And what do we teach our children? We teach them that two and two make four, and that Paris is the capital of France. When will we also teach them what they are?
We should say to each of them: Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the years that have passed, there has never been another child like you. Your legs, your arms, your clever fingers, the way you move. You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything.
If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”