The Primeval Revelation

Chapter 6: Creation Myths Around the Globe Lore of the Wishosk Indians

The Wishosk Indians lived on a narrow strip of land along Humbolt Bay in northern California, where Eureka is now situated. Their numbers had dwindled from a previous larger population to only a few dozen with hardly any children. A. L. Kroeber gathered the following materials from them, which he published as "Wishosk Myths," in The Journal of American Folk-Lore Vol. XVIII, April-June, 1905, pp. 85-107. He was sorry that his informants were the final survivors of a much more vigorous population that could have provided better information: "The Wishosk myths here presented give but a broken idea of what these people must have been fifty years ago. Even as they are, however, they bring out several salient characteristics of this mythology" (90).

Kroeber observes that in northern central California "there seems to be a conception of a single supreme or original creator, however much or little he may appear in the myths" (ibid., 89). His name is Gudatrigakwitl meaning "The Ancient One Above." What is special about the testimony of these people is that the Supreme Being creates things out of nothing. Here, then, is one of the versions of Wishosk beliefs as Kroeber coaxed it out of a man named Bob.

Gudatrigakwitl and the Creation

At first there were no trees and no people on the earth. Nothing except ground was visible. There was no ocean. Then Gudatrigakwitl was sorry that it was so. He thought, "How is it that there are no animals?" He looked, but he saw nothing. Then he deliberated. He thought, "I will try. Somebody will live on the earth. But what will he use?" Then he decided to make a boat for him. He made things by joining his hands and spreading them. He used no tools. In this way he made people.

The first people were not right. They all died. Gudatrigakwitl thought that they were bad. He wanted good people who would have children. At first he wanted every man to have ten lives. When he was an old man he was to become a boy again. Afterwards The Ancient of Days found that he could not do this. He gave the people all the game, the fish, and the trees. He said: "As long as people live, if an old man will tell his boy about me it will be as if I were there, for he will tell him, `Do not do so and so.'"

In other places there were different people, but they were all made by Gudatrigakwitl at one time, all over the world. That is why there are different tribes with different languages. So the old men used to say. When Gudatrigakwitl wanted to make people, he said, "I want fog." Then it became foggy. Gudatrigakwitl thought: "Now I wish people to be all over, broadcast. I want it to be full of people and full of game." Then the fog went away. No one had seen them before, but now they were there. Gudatrigakwitlused no sand or earth or sticks to make the people; he merely thought and they existed... Gudatrigakwitl left the people all kinds of dances. He said: "When there is a festivity, call me. If some do not like what I say, let them be. But those to whom I leave my instructions, who will teach them to their children, all will be well. Whenever you are badly off, call me. I can save you in some way, no matter how great the difficulty. If a man does not call me I will let him go." So he left dances and good times. That is why the people dance. They used never to miss making a dance.

Gudatrigakwitl went all over the world looking. Then he made everything. When he had finished everything he made people....Gudatrigakwitl is alive today. He does not die. He does not become sick. He is the same as formerly. As long as the world exists he will live. The reason why some people are still alive is because some of them still follow his word a little. Therefore they tell their children: "Do not do so and so." Gudatrigakwitlhas a good place to live in, where it is shining and light. There is no darkness there. It is white there, but never black. He does not like the dark. There are flowers there. He is alone. Whatever he thinks exists. Gudatrigakwitlsaid: "This sort of cloud will make rain; this kind will make snow; when there is this kind it will be very warm." That is how the people know the weather. Gudatrigakwitlmade everything by wanting it. He did not work with his hands. When a man wants to go on the ocean and it is rough, he takes a stick and strikes the water several times and says: "Gudatrigakwitl, you made people to be born long ago. You made it that they go on the water. I want it to be calm now." Then he launches his boat. When he is going to land again, he says: "Stop the waves for a little while."...

The Flood

Gudatrigakwitlthought: "I do not know what people will do." He made a great flood. He wanted to destroy the people, to sweep them off, so that there would be new people, better ones. The first people were bad. That is why he made the flood. Then he made people again... From this flood are the lakes in the mountains and the plants in the lakes. From it also are the shells in the mountains. Before the flood the earth was smooth and flat without mountains..." (pp.93-96).

Kroeber worked with Bob for the better part of a day to get the above information and more. "He was utterly unable to give any connected accounts." Kroeber observes that Bob had been influenced somewhat by the whites, but "on the whole it is undoubtedly good Wishosk" (Kroeber 91).

Wilhelm Schmidt (Ursprung II, 40) commented on the above and additional materials not quoted, that we have here the concept of creation out of nothing, for Gudatrigakwitl uses no tools or materials. He creates by mere thinking. He creates everything, with the apparent exception of the initial existence of barren land, but He does not need this material for creation. He is good, for "Whatever he made is good" (94). People honor Him with their prayers and expect His providential protection. He rewards the good and punishes the wicked. He wants parents to instruct children in His ways. He instituted the cult of the dance and instructed them to call Him because He wants to be there.

The religion of these Indians must have been a warm and living part of their existence from day to day, continues Schmidt. Their relationship to the Creator was intimate, close to the heart. They regarded Him not only as the One who is good and who does them favors; they also pictured Him as majestic and splendid to behold. He lives in the bright splendor of light and avoids darkness. Schmidt commends Kroeber for collecting the myths which present the Supreme Being in a noteworthy manner, and for confirming the data by multiple interviews and by means of his professional knowledge. As the reader readily sees, the belief of the Wishosk Indians is not far from the belief of the Israelites who read Genesis.

"Original Sin" in the Maidu Tradition

Stephen Powers published noteworthy data about the "Tribes of California" Washington, 1887, some of which will be used here. Roland B. Dixon published his "Maidu Myths" in the Bulletin of American Museum of Natural History, Vol. XVII, 1902, and "Maidu Texts," Bulletin 78 of the same Museum in 1905. It is estimated that there were some 300,000 Indians in California before the white man came, consisting of more than 100 groups who spoke different languages. The common political units were little tribes of 3 to 30 neighboring villages. The Maidu lived between the Sacramento River and the Sierra Nevada, in the Feather River and American River drainage basins. The name Maidu means "Person" (Schmidt, Ursprung II, 102). They lived in dwellings half buried underground, and nourished themselves by gathering nuts, fruits, seeds, and roots. They have a rich mythology with a wealth of lore about the creation of the world and of humans. We sample this with the following account of the initial paradise, and the sin which ruined it.

After this Kodoyampeh sent on the earth the man whom he had created to gather food from the face of it. Now, before this all the game and all the fish, the grasshoppers, the birds of the air, and the insects of the earth had been tame, so that a man had only to reach forth his hand among them and take whatever he wished for his food. Also the soil had been prolific up to this time, yielding all products, acorns, Manzanita berries, pine-nuts and many kinds of grass-seed for the sustenance of man. So when Kodoyampeh sent forth the man whom he had made he told him to take freely of all that he saw and desired - of the game and the fish and the birds and the nuts, seeds, and berries - for all these things he had created for him. One injunction only he laid upon him, and that was that he should bring home to his house whatever he wished to cook, and not kindle a fire in the woods. So the man went out to catch game, but the devil saw him and told him to cook in the woods whatever he wished. And he did so. Therefore all the game and all the fish, all the grasshoppers, the birds and the insects, when they saw the smoke in the woods became wild, as they are to-day (sic). More than that, the ground was changed so that the oaks yielded no more acorns, and the manzanita bushes no more berries, nor was there anything left for the food of man on the face of the earth, save only roots, clover, and earth worms. These three things were all men had to eat. Also Kodoyampeh changed the air so that it was no longer always the same year round, but now there was frost, and rain, and fog, and wind, and heat, and drought, together with pleasant days. As a recompense he gave them fire to warm themselves, whereas before they had had only stones to press against their bodies... Before this time they had had no diseases and no deaths, but after they cooked and ate in the woods they became subject to fever and pestilences, and many died. But Kodoyampeh told them that if they were good, at death they would go away to the spirit-land by the right-hand path, which is the light; but if they were bad they would go away by the left-hand path which leads away into darkness [a reference to the Milky Way]. (Stephen Powers, "Tribes of California," 293-294).

Like the Lenape, the Maidu have a very clear concept of an afterlife. The soul, after departure from the body, travels to the sky, either along the path of the sun, or on the Milky Way. At the fork of the stream of stars in the Milky Way, where one stream continues and the other soon ends, the good and the evil souls go their separate ways. The good continue along the main stream to reach the abode of the Creator. The evil reach the end of their road, where their branch of the Milky Way comes to a stop. They are unable to go on to the place of happiness (see A.L.Kroeber, 439-440).

Aborigines in Australia

R. Brough-Smythe published a two-volume work in 1879 titled The Aborigines of Victoria, which is mainly a collection of articles and letters. In it the Melbourne Aborigines give their version of the creation of the first humans. Genesis 2:7 states that "the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being." The Melbourne blacks touch up their story with more details.

Punjil laid out two sheets of bark and placed on each a quantity of clay. He then worked the materials into a proper consistency with His long knife. That done, He fashioned the bodies of two men with His hands, beginning from the feet and working slowly upwards. When finished at last, after long hours of work, He took a long look, and was satisfied; so pleased was He that He danced around them. Then He took stringy bark from a eucalyptus tree, shaped it into hair and placed it on their heads; one set of hair was straight, the other curly. Again Punjil looked at His work and was pleased; much pleased; so He danced around them once more to express His satisfaction. He then smoothed their skins to a fine texture with His hands; this done He blew His breath into their mouths, their noses, and their navel. He blew hard, and they stirred. He danced around them a third time. Then He made them start to speak and told them to rise; when they arose they were grown men, not children (Brough-Smythe I,423-424).

The creation of the first two women is a separate story; when He had breathed His breath into them, they too became alive. Punjil then brought the men and the women together to become married couples.

For three blissful days thereafter the Creator and His assistant spent time on earth with these first couples. Punjil and His assistant spoke with them, introducing them to the world He had created, and instructing them about all they should know about life; he taught men about skills of hunting and women about the art of gathering with pointed sticks.

The creation story now rises to a majestic and stirring climax: a storm breaks; the storm grows in intensity, once, twice, three times. At the height of the storm's power Punjil and His assistant rise into the winds and pass far upwards into the air; far away into the air. Now the couples are alone; they are sad; the song resonates the painful longing with which they gaze upward to where their Punjil has gone, who had placed them into this world and taught them how to live and labor there (see Schmidt, Ursprung III, 680).

Note how their version specifically states that the Creator lived for some time with humans, and taught them what they needed to know abut life. The descendants now recall the original times with a fond nostalgia, and hope to recapture the days of bliss once again when they can return to the Creator in heaven after death. The place of the good in the next world is said, among these hunter-gatherers of South East Australia, to be heaven where the Supreme Being Himself dwells (see Schmidt Ursprung III, 1098-1100).

Genesis, finally edited in the Near East, knows about irrigation, about cultivated gardens with fruit trees, about fields with thorns and thistles, about domesticated cattle, about grain farming (Cain) and sheep herding (Abel). The primeval revelation originally given to hunter-gatherer ancestors, is thus transplanted into the far more advanced cultural setting familiar to the Israelites who finally wrote the inspired version of Genesis.

The hunter-gatherers of southeast Australia know about wetlands and clay, about eucalyptus trees, about use of the long knife, of the spear for hunting, the sharpened stick for digging. The settings are quite different from the surroundings of the authors of Genesis, but the main concept of God the Creator, who is good and almighty, is evident in both cultural settings.

The Supreme Being Worshiped By The Ainu

The Venerable Dr. John Batchelor first came into contact with the Ainu on the northern island of Hokkaido, Japan, as a young layman in 1877. He joined the Church Missionary Society of London in 1879 and spent the next fifty years with the Ainu as a missionary. We quote from his books The Ainu and Their Folklore (London, 1901), and Ainu Life and Lore (Tokyo, 1927).

Though there are many so-called gods in Ainu folklore, there is only one Supreme Being who is above all, who has absolute power. "He is the Almighty Power, the ever-living, vitalizing intelligent force of all Nature and being. All other divine beings, whatever their grade may be, are directly responsible to Him" (Batchelor, 1901, 576). Hokkaido has cold wet winters, and the story of creation is adapted to a Hokkaido landscape:

In the beginning the world was a great slushy quagmire. It was in a shocking condition. The waters were at that time hopelessly mixed up with the earth, and nothing was to be seen but a mighty ocean of bare, sloppy swamp... Nothing existed in that chaotic mass and nothing stirred, for it was altogether incapable of sustaining life. ... All was cold, solitary, and desolate ... The creator abode in the highest heavens with mighty hosts of subordinate deities.

By and by the Great God - the True God - determined to render the world habitable. He therefore made the water- wag-tail and sent him down to produce the earth. When he descended and saw the dreadfully shocking condition the elements were in, and how they were mixed up in confusion, he was almost at his wits' end to know how to perform his allotted task. But he thought of a way, for he fluttered over the waters with his wings, trampled upon the muddy matter with his feet, and beat it down with his tail, till, after a very long time of fluttering, trampling, and tail-wagging, dry places appeared, and the waters became the ocean. In this way the world was gradually raised up and made to stand out of the waters, and caused to float upon them. Therefore the ancients called the world mo-shiri, i.e. floating land, and hold the water-wagtail in great esteem - for was he not the angel of God? (Batchelor, Ainu Life and Lore, 119).

There are endearing versions of how God created humans. He did this work personally, but some versions tell how He had to leave off before He was completely finished. Because He didn't have the time to put on the finishing touches Himself, He delegated the task to others, and that explains why the human body is flawed here and there:

When God was in the act of making the first man, and had nearly finished His task, it happened to be necessary for Him to unexpectedly return to heaven on important business. Before setting out for the return journey, He called an otter which happened to be near him at the time, and told him that He was going away, but would quickly send another deity to finish the work He Himself had already begun; the otter was to deliver the message to him, explaining what to do.

Now, although this animal said he would deliver the message without fail, he grew careless, and did nothing but amuse himself by swimming up and down the rivers, catching and eating fish; he fixed his whole attention on this, and thought of nothing else. So intent was he on his fishing that he entirely forgot the message God gave him to deliver; yea, the otter forgot all about it. This is the reason why the first man was made so imperfect, and why all human beings are not quite in the fashion God originally intended (Batchelor, 1901, 5-6).

The Ainu are characteristically great story tellers, and possess a rich repertoire of stories to teach each new generation about the meaning and the duties of life. The story of judgment after death is told with a simplicity and charm calculated to motivate good moral living:

If (the soul) it has done good during life it passes along the road to heaven, at the doors of which gods and men meet it and lead it inside. If the spirit belonged to a person who did evil during life, it is informed that, a message having been received concerning its evil deeds, it has now to proceed to Gehenna for punishment... Some say that the spirits which go there will be wet, uncomfortable, and very cold for ever (Batchelor 1901, 568-570).

It is thought that the Ainu, who are now surviving as a small minority, who live mostly in Hokkaido, were once a strong and hardy people who populated a great part of Asia. Their religious traditions may, therefore, have affected the peoples who passed through their midst on the way to Beringia and thence to the Americas. Their religious education, therefore, must have affected great multitudes of people during the prime days of the Ainu culture.

Monotheism in Africa

"Basically, in African traditional religions, there is a belief in God, one God; then Spirits, good and bad; and ancestors. And there is a cult of all three: God, spirits and ancestors, but never put at the same level." So spoke 62 year old Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze (Interview, Inside the Vatican, April, 1994). This eminent native African, who is also President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious dialogue, thus attests to the overall worship of the Supreme Being by Africans which is traditional and contemporary.

"The traditional religion [practiced in Africa] is rich in values, very close to the Christian Faith. Detailed examination of all that unites us encourages adherence to Christianity." So spoke Bishop Settimo Arturo Ferrazzetta, O.F.M. of Guinea Bissau, to the assembled bishops of the African Synod, 22 April, 1994. His sanguine appraisal about the line of continuity from the traditional African religions to Christianity is verified by the multitudes of conversions of Africans to Christianity in recent decades. They are finding Christianity as the fulfillment of their inherited religious traditions and practices.

R.C. Mitchell, in African Primal Religions pp. 23-24 summarizes the basic monotheism of African Traditional Religions as follows:

Every African people has a belief in a Supreme Being which is central to its religion... Although this Supreme Being is known by many names, the qualities attributed to him by the various peoples are quite similar... (They call Him) the All-powerful, the Creator, the Giver of Rain and Sunshine, the Owner of All Things, The God of the World... This sense of God as transcendent, the all-powerful creator deity is very important in African thought. It is expressed most fully in the creation myths of the various African peoples who have such myths.

There is a common belief pervading African traditional religions, then, in the Supreme Being, and we are probably correct in believing that it is a continuation of beliefs handed down by the hunter-gatherer ancestors. Islands of the hunter-gatherer cultures and religious beliefs exist even today; primary examples are the Mabuti Pygmies of the Ituri tropical rain forest, ancient peoples along the shores surrounding lakes of the Great Rift Valley and stretching from there back into the forests, and in the Kalahari Desert.

The African hunter-gatherers who are dependent upon the bounties of nature are characteristically quite aware of their dependence upon the Supreme being, whereas the agriculturists and cattle farmers tend to pay more immediate attention to intermediary spirits. Even so, the Supreme Being is always the final point of religious reference in traditional Africa.

The former President of the Republic of Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta, describes this Supreme Being as follows:

The Gikuyu believe in one God, Ngai, the creator and giver of all things. He has no father, mother, or companion of any kind. His work is done in solitude. He loves or hates people according to their behaviour. The Creator lives in the sky, but has temporary homes on earth, situated in mountains, where he may rest during his visits. The visits are made with a view to his carrying out a kind of "general inspection," and to bring blessings and punishments to the people (Kenyatta, Facing Mount Kenya, 127).

Religion forms the warp and woof of daily life among traditional African believers. "All through his lifelong journey, he is involved in a religious drama. His vocabulary, his thought forms, his actions, and every portion of his life, is a participation in a religious experience... The religious creed is within, is part of him" (Rev. J.S. Mbiti, HLI Reports, June, 1989).

Religious regulations rule daily life in minute detail, appearing to repress private thought and initiative to no small degree. A native of Uganda, now a missionary priest in Kenya, testifies that:

The Baganda, like any other African, do not separate religion and life in the daily activities of man or woman, whether in the home, on a journey in the forest, or at a beer party; his religion is always there as part of himself or herself... Even the leaves used for cooking are selected and have a religious significance. It follows therefore that the entire day is a continuous worship and prayer (Rev. John Kasolo, private correspondence, 25 October 1993; used with permission).

Although the Baganda people traditionally pray to Lubale, this god is recognized as being dependent in turn upon the Universal God Katonda the Creator. A few among the Christians go in the evening to pray to Lubale, after attending Mass in the morning at the Catholic Church (Kasolo).

We have circled the globe, and have found belief in the Supreme Being, rewarder of the good and punisher of the wicked in an after life, on the five continents. The accumulated evidence can point to no other than to the activity of God Himself; to a continued loving contact of the Supreme Being with the human race. He revealed Himself to Adam and Eve at the beginning; He did not abandon mankind to the power of death after their sin, but helps all men to seek and find Him (cf. Fourth Canon of the Mass).

We may be surprised that so many people, who never so much as heard about Genesis, nevertheless do honor to God, revere Him as their Father, and hope to meet Him in heaven. We thank God that He kept the faith alive not only among many descendants of Abraham but also among many descendants of Adam who are not descendants of Abraham.

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