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Mythology is a cultural heritage that is passed on in stories. One such story is the tale of Young Hunter presented by Joseph Bruchac in the Dawn Land trilogy. Bruchac is a contemporary Abenaki storyteller whose novels give an insight into the richness and complexity of native American myths. The reader is transported into the world of animal people and Stone Giants, of hunting and marriage rituals, of the mundane and the spiritual, of supernatural and everyday. The story of the Dawn Land tells of a world that is very much alive in the minds of Abenaki. The myths, or legends as Bruchac refers to them, are an essential element of their cultural identity and continue to be passed on to the young generations. Myths are told on numerous occasions, at seasons for storytelling (Dawn Land 113) and as an important element of upbringing. Although Abenaki myths and legends deal with multicity of subjects, they all are set in the mythical Before Times when the Owner Creator gave people the knowledge of world and life. The idea of the Before Times recalls Mircea Eliade’s concept of the sacred time of the beginnings with its religious and sociological importance. Both Eliade’s sacred times and Abenaki’s Before Times become points of reference and provide justification of the rituals and everyday routines. The aim of this paper is to discuss the importance of the Before Times with the example of hunting rituals.

The Dawn Land series consists of three volumes: Dawn Land, Long River and The Waters Between. The trilogy, as Bruchac writes in the introduction, “is in a way an historical novel [for] it draws strongly on the oral traditions of the Western Abenaki … it is based on the melding of historical facts and native traditions, as well as, ideas about world and the role of human beings in it” (DL ix, x-xi). The events described in the novels are set in the western part of New England, a place that European-Americans call Vermont but, as Bruchac writes, “to my Abenaki people it is Ndakinna, Our Land” (LR xi). There, long time before the arrival of the Europeans, people of the Dawn Land lived in peace and in harmony with nature. Young Hunter, the hero of the series, grew up among the Only People, in one of the thirteen villages of the Dawn Land. Each part of the series tells of a different quest that Young Hunter has to undertake in order to defeat the enemy in the shape of ancient creatures or twisted-minded people. The three quests are also an opportunity for the young hero to gain the knowledge of his own people and of the surrounding world, the wisdom that comes from the Before Times.

The memory of the Before Times has been preserved in myths, the most powerful of stories. Myths, Eliade writes in The Myth and Reality, hold the truth of the foundations of the world (91) for in them “the history of all … divine and semi-divine works is preserved” (202). Similarly to Eliade, Bruchac is using the word history when describing the events of the Before Times because the power of these tales lies also in their truth. The knowledge of the past allows the Dawn Land people to live in harmony with nature. Furthermore, myths tell of rituals that need to be fulfilled in order to preserve the harmony, to be in balance with creation. Among the Abenaki, the way things are done is dictated by myths because those stories “reveal the exemplary models for all human rites and all significant human activities (8), as Eliade argues. Every repetition of a ritual is an imitation of a deed that once was carried out by the sacred beings. Rituals are always sacred for, as in Eliade’s theory, “by imitating the divine behavior, man puts and keeps himself close to the gods - that is, in the real and the significant” (202). Abenaki believe that the rituals show the right way (9) for things to be done, “the way they were meant to be [done]” (67).

            Myths have changed routines into rituals. Abenaki have kept stories that deal with creation as well as day-to-day life, with the sacred and the profane. Those stories prove people’s inseparable connection with nature. Everything that people know about the world, all tools and medicines have been, at some point, given to them. The gratitude is expressed be means of sacred rituals that entered all aspects of their lives. An example of highly ritualized activity that I want to talk about today is hunting. Hunting for Abenaki is a means of providing food but also a way of honoring the nature. Everyone is equal for the Only People, not only among the human people but in the whole of nature. On many occasions one comes across such expressions as deer people, fish people or in general animal people that signify the equality in the world. Hunting needs to reflect this balance.

Abenaki know two ways of hunting: pure hunting and hunting with a spear or knife. In the opening chapter of Dawn Land, the readers are acquainted with Young Hunter when he is preparing himself “to hunt for the people in the strongest way” (4), to become one of the pure hunters, “one of those who went with no weapon to take the deer, to bring back food for the people in the way that was specially blessed” (17). The ritual starts the night before the hunt. Young Hunter needs to spend the night alone in a sweat lodge, where he is meditating and cleansing his body and spirit. At dawn, “he emerge[s] from the lodge, crawling as a baby new born to the world ready for the sacred ritual” (8). Pure in body and spirit, Young Hunter leaves the village alone. Pure hunters do not use any weapons. They chase the animal for many days until it is ready to offer itself to the people. Pure hunting is one of the most sacred rituals, all hunters have to go trough all its stages:

 

 

He would run to keep it running, cutting its circle so that it would not rest. At last, its heart about to burst, he would catch it as it stood waiting for him. Its eyes would be calm, its fear gone. He would speak the old words. He would thank it for its gift. Then his hands would grasp its mouth, holding it shut, cutting the flow of life. Its breath would loosen and its spirit would leave its body, leave its body to give its body to the Only People. (8)

Abenaki believe that every living thing “from the greatest to the smallest was made of body and spirit” (113). Pure hunting honors both the body and the spirit of hunted animals in a way the Owner Creator has taught people in the Before Times. Hunters look directly into animal’s eyes and speak the old words that acknowledge its sacrifice. At that moment the spirits of the human and the animal are as close as they ever could be; the understanding and the spiritual bond is that between the two beings created by the same Owner Creator. The animal is not killed, it offers itself for the sake of people. After the fair and equal hunt, the animal concedes the strength of the hunter and gives its body to the people while its spirit joins its ancestors in the Above Land. Young Hunter is aware that he experiences the sacred.  When the spirit of the deer leaves its body, he is overwhelmed with emotions and knows that “it was more of a gift than he felt he could bear” (19).

            Hunters can choose to take a weapon, either a knife or a spear, when they set off to track the prey. Although the elders of Abenaki are familiar with a bow, it is considered wrong to hunt with the Long Thrower for it does not honor the hunted animal. With the Long Thrower people kill from a long distance and thus put themselves superior to animals. The knife was given to people by a beaver, as the readers learn from one of the myths, that Bear Talker tells. Once a trapper came across a dead beaver with her young one clung to her fur, the man took pity on the helpless animal and brought it home. He looked after the beaver and they became brothers; they lived, ate and travelled together. One day, the man understood that it was time for the beaver to come back to its own people, he took the animal to the river and promised the beaver never to hunt there. Few nights later, the beaver in the shape of a man came to the trapper in his dream and told the man that in return for his care a special gift was awaiting the man. Next day, the trapper found a crooked knife that looked like beaver’s tooth and was better than the stone knife he had been using so far (86-88). The story not only explains the origins of the crooked knife but more importantly it offers an insight into the Abenaki way of thinking about the world. The human people and the animal people were meant by the Owner Creator to live in harmony. Although human people hunt the animal people, the beaver ensures the trapper “you did nothing evil. It was only the natural way and you were trapping to keep your own people alive” (87). The fact that the human people hunt animal people in order to survive was inscribed in the creation by the Owner Creator.

The death of the prey does not end the hunting ritual. Once the body of the animal is brought back, it is carried through the whole village. Both the hunter and the pray are welcomed by everyone with respect and appreciation, the body of the animal is acknowledged as a gift. Because the self-offering of an animal is of the highest value, no part of animal’s body can be wasted. People receive not only food, but also sewing thread that is made of sinew and tools that could be made of the bones. Only the skull would not be used, it “would be tied to the tree in a place outside the village … [where] the deer would be pleased and [would] take back its bone spirit” (23). That ritual would ensure that the spirit of the animal “would return in the bodies of other animals ready to give themselves to help the Only People” (23). The skull would be placed facing west, the direction where all the spirits, human or animal, go up “the Sky Trail, on into the Above Land, where all those gone before waited” (23). Everyone among the Abenaki understood the importance of the ritual. As it is explained in the stories of the Before Times, “if the deer was not treated with respect, its spirit would speak to the chief of the deer nation. Then the chief of the deer would lead his people far away and the Only People would go hungry” (21).      

Children were taught about the hunting rituals through stories. They were told what the Owner Creator taught the first human people in the Before Times. The stories also tell of the strict rules of hunting. The Only People knew no farming and thus hunting and gathering were essential for their survival. Because people depended on hunting, it was forbidden to hunt on the territory of other family without their permission (83). A hunter who broke the rule had to leave the village for four winters. (83). Similarly, children were taught not to make false tracks of animals, “[they] should not take the foot of a dead animal and press it into the earth or snow to make a false trail [because] that would offend the spirits of those animals” (157). The knowledge of hunting rules and rituals passed on to children has its source in the Before Times. It is the sacred knowledge that was given to people by the Owner Creator and Abenaki children are taught to respect it.     

Myths also tell of hunters who failed at honoring the animal, of those who killed animals for pleasure or out of cruelty. Those myths are passed on as a warning. Disrespectful behavior brings misfortunes upon the hunter, his family and village; “sickness would come to a hunter who killed the deer and failed to give thanks, failed to show respect by hanging the skull from the offering tree” (113). In one of the stories Bear Talker recalls, there was a man “who once killed many frogs for no reason, and a flash flood rolled down the valley and swept away his people” (113). Stories of failed rituals or deeds that violated them serve to be both a source of explanation why rituals should be preserved and performed and a warning for those who ignore the ways things should be done. Abenaki hold a belief that the Owner Creator taught people hunting yet only to save them from starvation.

In conclusion, Abenaki hunting rituals express human people’s respect for the animal people and reflect the view of the world where the animals are as important to the Owner Creator as the humans are. The rituals have remained unchanged since the Before Times and, as Abenaki believed, their repetition and the shown respect ensures prosperity and harmonious life of the village. Abenaki myths that underlie their routines and knowledge always refer to the Before Times when the Owner Creator made the world. Those mythical Before Times serve the same function in the Abenaki village as the sacred times did according to Eliade among the primitive societies. It is the source of rituals and their explanations, it is the point of reference for the customs and way of living, it also defines people’s place in the world. The life of people is connected with nature as close as it is possible, nature provides people with everything that allows them to survive. As a result, The Only People believe, as they were taught by the Owner Creator and as they are reminded of in myths and legends, that they need to respect nature in all its form. Abenaki always express their gratitude to nature by rituals that inseparably connected with their lives. Hunting is the most vivid example of a highly ritualized activity that reminds people of the importance of the sacred times and sacred practices.

 Works Cited:

Bruchac, Joseph. Dawn Land. Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum Publishing, 1993.

_____________ . Long River. Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum Publishing, 1995.

_____________ . The Waters Between. Hanover, London: University Press of New England,    1998.

Eliade, Mircea. The Myth and Reality. New York: Harper and Row, 1975.




 

Spring

Procrastinate … the word I’ve learnt recently and that describes my state of mind most accurately …

I do hope that spring will bring some changes …it's raining by the way ...

 

Unknown lands of Canada and Australia

I bought first two volumes of another fantasy series:  Ranger's Apprentice by John Flanagan from Australia.

That’s only the second novel from Australia I’ve come across in my literature explorations – the first one was Picnic At Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay and I remember I enjoyed it very much.

I don’t know why but somehow Australian literature (just like Canadian) is not on the syllabus for the courses in English Literature (English meaning written in English) and so I can’t name many authors from those countries … that’s a pity.

 

 

My idea for analyzing selected fantasy series turned out to be … too narrow. I was asked to rewrite my text (again) and try to inscribe the series into broader context (globalization, ecology and cultural/religious conflicts of the modern world).

I have some doubts if it’s really the right way, after all I’m writing about books for children and young adults …

...


the SNOW QUEEN was here ...

Snowed under …

Literally and metaphorically speaking …

It seems that my home country wasn’t prepared for such amount of snow … believe it or not, but there is no space left for more of the white stuff but the weather forecast is merciless: SNOW* !!

It’s not that I’m complaining but it’s getting kind of hard to get anywhere on time.

Lucky those who have winter break now (I’m one of them!) for they see snow as possibility (snowman? Skiing?) and unfortunate those who see it as a obstacle (traffic jams? late trams/buses?).

 

In the meantime, I’m snowed under with work – that’s because of the exam period at my Uni. I got stuck somewhere between the PSEUDOMENON (for my philosophy exam) and AGGLUTINATION (for my linguistics exam) … I only wish I knew why I’m learning all that stuff and how on earth it is going to help me in writing my PhD thesis??

 

 

*a precipitation in the form of ice crystals, mainly of intricately branched, hexagonal form and often agglomerated into snowflakes, formed directly from the freezing of the water vapor in the air (one of those hilarious definitions that make simple things look complicatedJ)

 

 

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My idea for analysing the series by Rick Riordan:

Mythopoeic fantasy may be seen as a reflection of mythological revival in modern literature. Rick Riordan makes an attempt of bringing the mythology so near to the reader that the Greek Pantheon literary enters the lives of contemporary people in the series Percy Jackson and the Olympians. The blending of the old and new, mythological and modern raises the questions of theoretical aspects of rewriting classical myths in book for young readers without losing the seriousness that characterizes myth. Myths can be changed or adopted for the sake of the plot or structure of the book; great mythological gods and heroes can be presented in different (e.g., modern) contexts, as in case of Riordan’s series. On the one hand, mythological characters should be as we expect them to be (powerful, strong, magnificent and terrifying). On the other hand, certain modernizations are introduced into the novels and so Olympus is on the 600th floor of the Empire State Building and Ares rides a motorbike. The humorous effect that is achieved in the end is worth closer analysis. Moreover, the series should also be analyzed in the context of White’s understanding of myth’s place in literature, that is, the conscious repeating of the mythic pattern or living the myth that is known to the characters. More than once, Percy and his friends escape a danger by reaping the actions that Hercules, Theseus or Jason had done before them. Riordan skillfully juxtaposes modern teenage demigods with great mythical heroes and thus prompting the questions of heroism both mythical and modern. Finally, the fact that the knowledge of the existence of Greek gods in the contemporary United States is limited to only some people makes one wonder on Eliade’s division into the sacred and the profane, the limited access to the sacred and the conditions one has to fulfill in order to be allowed the access.

Delicate matter of Heaven and Hell (Sheol?)

The time of exams at my university is about to start. I’ve been preparing myself for the exam on Fantastic Elements in Literature and I find the subject highly intriguing. We’ve been discussing on the lectures the subjects of Greek Muses, Hell and Demons, Heaven and Angels and now Vampires.

I must admit that analyzing the Bible as a literary source has been very refreshing and surprising - especially the Old Testament. I had no idea there is such an inconsistence as to the presentation of such seemingly basic concepts as Heaven and Hell (the latter in particular). It turned out that in the Old Testament we can read about SHEOL which is place of eternal punishment for everyone (no matter how good/faithful they were when alive). It was only much later the people started questioning it and ‘demanding’ different treatment of the good and the bad people. Finally, the Hell that most Christians believe in now is a concept that was ‘invented’ or rather discussed and agreed on at Ecumenical Council …

I feel slightly cheated. No one told me that when I was attending religion classes in Primary School. I was given the ‘final’ version of what I should believe in.

 

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New Year’s Resolutions/Plans

I can honestly say that most of my plans and resolutions for 2009 I managed to fulfill.  

So here are some general points concerning 2010.

Firstly, I promise myself to learn more Norwegian (recently, I’ve neglected that unfortunately)

Secondly, I’m determined to start my own business

Thirdly, in case the second point is impossible due to administrative maze founded upon the absurd rules and full of hazards and traps (like, e.g. you need to prove that you really exist), I want to find a job as a teacher at some university/academy.

Fourthly, I need to pay back my new, lovely, pinkish car.

Fifthly, I want to see Amsterdam and Paris this year.

Sixthly, I plan to win the scholarship and a ticket to the USA (Fulbright Program)

Seventhly, books, books, books and more books to read.

Eighthly, movies, movies, movies and more movies to watch.

let's watch some movies!

I can’t live without books and … movies. If it was possible, I would have my own cinema and huge library in my house.

While browsing some movie webpages, I came across films that are worth watching next year. So here it is: must see movies in the first half of 2010: (of course, fantasy movies)

-Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,

-Clash of the Titans

-Alice in Wonderland

-Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

-Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

-Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I

-Where the Wild Things Are

-Phantasmagoria: The Visions of Lewis Carroll

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Into the Dawn Land ...

Since I’ve decided to apply for the Fulbright Program, I need to prepare a project of research that I would like to carry out in the US. My supervisor suggested that I should replace Holdstock’s Celtika with something more American. I was advised to read a trilogy by Joseph Bruchac. The whole series consists of: The Dawn Land, The Long River, The Waters Between.
And here it’s what’s the story about:

“Bruchac focuses on the male rite of passage. On a quest to bring meat to his people, Young Hunter is bitten by a snake. Returning to his village, he relates his experiences to the oldest Talker, who sees that Young Hunter was chosen by the snake to protect the Only People from approaching danger. Bruchac seamlessly weaves ancient myths into his compelling tale of the young boy and his encounters with an earlier form of being, thought to be extinct, that threatens the survival of the human race. An outstanding work in its genre, Dawn Land should be popular with both general and young adult readers.”
- Debbie Bogenschutz, Cincinnati Technical Coll.

Though I’ve never paid much attention to native American stories (myths?), I’ve decided to give it a try. I’m reading the first part. It’s definitely different from what I’ve read so far. It’s different on the level of language and narration. It’s believable in a way that I trust the author/narrator and let myself be carried by the adventure without questioning it. It has the credibility that Tolkien was writing about in On Fairy Stories.