Native American Myths and Legends of
THE EVIL SPIRIT;
FROM THE LEGENDS OF IAGOU.
"The Pagan world not only believes in a myriad of gods, but worships them also. It is the peculiarity of the North American Indian, that while he believes in as many, he worships but one, the Great Spirit."—(Schoolcraft.)
Chemanitou, being the master of life, at one time became the origin of a spirit, that has ever since caused himself and all others of his creation a great deal of disquiet. His birth was owing to an accident. It was in this wise.
Metówac, or as the white people now call it, Long Island, was originally a vast plain, so level and free from any kind of growth, that it looked like a portion of the great sea that had suddenly been made to move back and let the sand below appear, which was the case in fact.
Here it was that Chemanitou used to come and sit, when he wished to bring any new creation to the life. The place being spacious and solitary, the water upon every side, he had not only room enough, but was free from interruption.
It is well known that some of these early creations were of very great size, so that very few could live in the same place, and their strength made it difficult for Chemanitou, even to controul them; for when he has given them certain elements, they have the use of the laws that govern these elements, till it is his will to take them back to himself. Accordingly, it was the custom of Chemanitou, when he wished to try the effect of these creatures, to set them in motion upon the island of Metówac, and if they did not please him, he took the life out before they were suffered to escape. He would set up a mammoth or other large animal, in the centre of the island, and build him up with great care, somewhat in the manner that a cabin or a canoe is made.
Even to this day may be found traces of what had been done here in former years; and the manner in which the earth sometimes sinks down [even wells fall out at the bottom here,] shows that this island is nothing more than a great cake of earth, a sort of platter laid upon the sea, for the convenience of Chemanitou, who used it as a table upon which he might work, never having designed it for anything else; the margin of the Chatiemac, (the stately swan,) or Hudson river, being better adapted to the purposes of habitation.
When the master of life wished to build up an elephant or mammoth he placed four cakes of clay upon the ground, at proper distances, which were moulded into shape, and became the feet of the animal.
Now sometimes these were left unfinished; and to this day the green tussocks, to be seen like little islands about the marshes, show where these cakes of clay had been placed.
As Chemanitou went on with his work, the Neebanawbaigs (or water spirits,) the Puck-wud-jinnies, (Fairies) and indeed all the lesser manittoes, used to come and look on, and wonder what it would be, and how it would act.
When the animal was quite done, and had dried a long time in the sun, Chemanitou opened a place in the side, and entering in, remained there many days.
When he came forth, the creature began to shiver and sway from side to side, in such a manner as shook the whole island for many leagues. If his appearance pleased the master of life he was suffered to depart, and it was generally found that these animals plunged into the sea upon the north side of the island, and disappeared in the great forests beyond.
Now at one time Chemanitou was a very long while building an animal, of such great bulk, that it looked like a mountain upon the centre of the island; and all the manittoes, from all parts, came to see what it was. The Puck-wud-jinnies especially made themselves very merry, capering behind his great ears, sitting within his mouth, each perched upon a tooth, and running in and out of the sockets of the eyes, thinking Chemanitou, who was finishing off other parts of the animal, could not see them.
But he can see right through every thing he has made. He was glad to see them so lively, and bethought himself of many new creations while he watched their motions.
When the Master of Life had completed this large animal, he was fearful to give it life, and so it was left upon the island, or work-table of Chemanitou, till its great weight caused it to break through, and sinking partly down it stuck fast, the head and tail holding it in such a manner as to prevent it from going down.
Chemanitou then lifted up a piece of the back, and found it made a very good cavity, into which the old creations, which failed to please him, might be thrown.
He sometimes amused himself by making creatures very small and active, with which he disported awhile, and finding them of very little use in the world, and not so attractive as the little Vanishers, he would take out the life, holding it in himself, and then cast them into the cave made by the body of the unfinished animal. In this way great quantities of very odd shapes were heaped together in this Roncomcomon, or "Place of Fragments."
He was always careful to first take out the life.
One day the Master of Life took two pieces of clay and moulded them into two large feet, like those of a panther. He did not make four—there were two only.
He stepped his own feet into them, and found the tread very light and springy, so that he might go with great speed, and yet make no noise.
Next he built up a pair of very tall legs, in the shape of his own, and made them walk about awhile—he was pleased with the motion. Then followed a round body, covered with large scales, like the alligator.
He now found the figure doubling forward, and he fastened a long black snake, that was gliding by, to the back part of the body, and let it wind itself about a sapling near, which held the body upright, and made a very good tail.
The shoulders were broad and strong, like those of the buffaloe, and covered with hair—the neck thick and short, and full at the back.
Thus far Chemanitou had worked with little thought, but when he came to the head he thought a long while.
He took a round ball of clay into his lap, and worked it over with great care. While he thought, he patted the ball upon the top, which made it very broad and low; for Chemanitou was thinking of the panther feet, and the buffaloe neck. He remembered the Puck-wud-jinnies playing in the eye sockets of the great unfinished animal, and he bethought him to set the eyes out, like those of a lobster, so that the animal might see upon every side.
He made the forehead broad and full, but low; for here was to be the wisdom of the forked tongue, like that of the serpent, which should be in his mouth. He should see all things, and know all things. Here Chemanitou stopped, for he saw that he had never thought of such a creation before, one with but two feet, a creature who should stand upright, and see upon every side.
The jaws were very strong, with ivory teeth, and gills upon either side, which arose and fell whenever breath passed through them. The nose was like the beak of the vulture. A tuft of porcupine quills made the scalp-lock.
Chemanitou held the head out the length of his arm, and turned it first upon one side and then upon the other. He passed it rapidly through the air, and saw the gills rise and fall, the lobster eyes whirl round, and the vulture nose look keen.
Chemanitou became very sad; yet he put the head upon the shoulders. It was the first time he had made an upright figure.
It seemed to be the first idea of a man.
It was now nearly night; the bats were flying through the air, and the roar of wild beasts began to be heard. A gusty wind swept in from the ocean, and passed over the island of Metówac, casting the light sand to and fro. A heavy scud was skimming along the horizon, while higher up in the sky was a dark thick cloud, upon the verge of which the moon hung for a moment, and then was shut in.
A panther came by and stayed a moment, with one foot raised and bent inward, while he looked up at the image, and smelt the feet, that were like his own.
A vulture swooped down with a great noise of its wings, and made a dash at the beak, but Chemanitou held him back.
Then came the porcupine, and the lizard, and the snake, each drawn by its kind in the image.
Chemanitou veiled his face for many hours, and the gusty wind swept by, but he did not stir.
He saw that every beast of the earth seeketh its kind; and that which is like draweth its likeness unto himself.
The Master of Life thought and thought. The idea grew into his mind that at some time he would create a creature who should be made not after the things of the earth, but after himself.
He should link this world to the spirit world,—being made in the likeness of the Great Spirit, he should be drawn unto his likeness.
Many days and nights, whole seasons, passed while Chemanitou thought upon these things. He saw all things.
Then the Master of Life lifted up his head; the stars were looking down upon the image, and a bat had alighted upon the forehead, spreading its great wings upon each side. Chemanitou took the bat and held out its whole leathery wings, (and ever since the bat, when he rests, lets his body hang down,) so that he could try them over the head of the image. He then took the life of the bat away, and twisted off the body, by which means the whole thin part fell down over the head, and upon each side, making the ears, and a covering for the forehead like that of the hooded serpent.
Chemanitou did not cut off the face of the image below, he went on and made a chin, and lips that were firm and round, that they might shut in the forked tongue, and the ivory teeth; and he knew that with the lips and the chin it would smile, when life should be given to it.
The image was now all done but the arms, and Chemanitou saw that with a chin it must have hands. He grew more grave.
He had never given hands to any creature.
He made the arms and the hands very beautiful, after the manner of his own.
Chemanitou now took no pleasure in his work that was done—it was not good in his sight.
He wished he had not given it hands; might it not, when trusted with life, might it not begin to create? might it not thwart the plans of the master of life himself!
He looked long at the image. He saw what it would do when life should be given it. He knew all things.
He now put fire in the image: but fire is not life.
He put fire within, and a red glow passed through and through it. The fire dried the clay of which it was made, and gave the image an exceedingly fierce aspect. It shone through the scales upon the breast, and the gills, and the bat-winged ears. The lobster eyes were like a living coal.
Chemanitou opened the side of the image, but he did not enter. He had given it hands and a chin.
It could smile like the manittoes themselves.
He made it walk all about the island of Metówac, that he might see how it would act. This he did by means of his will.
He now put a little life into it, but he did not take out the fire. Chemanitou saw the aspect of the creature would be very terrible, and yet that he could smile in such a manner that he ceased to be ugly. He thought much upon these things. He felt it would not be best to let such a creature live; a creature made up mostly from the beasts of the field, but with hands of power, a chin lifting the head upward, and lips holding all things within themselves.
While he thought upon these things, he took the image in his hands and cast it into the cave.
But Chemanitou forgot to take out the life!
The creature lay a long time in the cave and did not stir, for his fall was very great. He lay amongst the old creations that had been thrown in there without life.
Now when a long time had passed Chemanitou heard a great noise in the cave. He looked in and saw the image sitting there, and he was trying to put together the old broken things that had been cast in as of no value.
Chemanitou gathered together a vast heap of stones and sand, for large rocks are not to be had upon the island, and stopped the mouth of the cave. Many days passed and the noise grew louder within the cave. The earth shook, and hot smoke came from the ground. The Manittoes crowded to Metówac to see what was the matter.
Chemanitou came also, for he remembered the image he had cast in there, and forgotten to take away the life.
Suddenly there was a great rising of the stones and sand—the sky grew black with wind and dust. Fire played about the ground, and water gushed high into the air.
All the Manittoes fled with fear; and the image came forth with a great noise and most terrible to behold. His life had grown strong within him, for the fire had made it very fierce.
Everything fled before him and cried—Machinito—Machinito—which means a god, but an evil god!
The above legend is gathered from the traditions of Iagou, the great Indian narrator, who seems to have dipped deeper into philosophy than most of his compeers. The aboriginal language abounds with stories related by this remarkable personage, which we hope to bring before the public at some future time. Whether subsequent events justify the Indian in making Long Island the arena of the production of Machinito or the Evil Spirit, will seem more than apocryphal to a white resident. However we have nothing to do except to relate the fact as it was related.
As to these primitive metaphysics, they are at least curious; and the coolness with which the fact is assumed that the origin of evil was accidental in the process of developing a perfect humanity, would, at an earlier day, have been quite appalling to the schoolmen.