Flood myths permeate the ancient world. The most well-known is the biblical story of Noah and the ark. However, the epic of Gilgamesh, from Mesopotamia is a much earlier rendition of a similar flood myth. Such stories can be found across the ancient world, but are there any flood myths out of the Americas? Interestingly, yes. Such myths are almost universal in the Plains tribes lore as well as the Woodland Indians. Just as with other deluge stories, it takes the form of the earth being submerged in water and then restored. However, in Native American lore, the earth is restored by a human being who sends a diving bird or animal into the water to obtain a little mud or sand. The following stories are but a small sampling of the rich stories of the Native American peoples.
The Algonquin people lived in a vast area of America stretching from the Eastern seaboard across the Great Lakes and into the Great Plains. This story involves the folk hero, Nanabozho who return to his lodge one day to find that his cousin had been taken by the evil Great Serpent. Armed with his bow, Nanabozho tracked the serpent over a great river, across mountains and valleys until reaching Spirit Lake, the home of the serpent. There, the Great Serpent lived at the bottom of the deep and gloomy lake. His house was filled with evil spirits and appeared monstrous. Nanabozho, in an effort to lure the demons and serpent from the water, commanded the clouds to disperse and the sun to shine bright. He further commanded the wind to stop blowing. He then transformed himself into a stump under the only shade tree available. Soon, the water began to boil under the harshness of the sun. The evil spirits and Great Serpent slithered from the lake and made their way to the tree where they soon fell asleep. Nanbozho, cleverly waited for his opportunity. He drew his arrow and fired it at the heart of the Great Serpent. Howls of rage soon filled the air as realization struck that the Great Serpent was dying. In revenge, the serpent and spirits caused the water of the lake to rise in a great wave flooding all earth in its path. With this great wave just behind him, Nanabozho ran through villages back the way he came shouting for everyone to escape to the mountains. There, they gathered timber and built a raft just before the mountaintop was also swallowed by water. Once the water receded, the people found the body of the great serpent. The evil spirits had returned to the lake where they remain to this day.
The Cree people, one of the country’s largest first nations, relate the story of Wisagatcak and the Great Beaver. Wisagatcak, a trickster, built a dam across a stream to catch a beaver. He was met by the Great Beaver who possessed magical powers. Just as Wisagatcak was about to spear the beaver, a muskrat bit him on the behind causing him to miss. Angry at Wisagatcak for such an act, the Great Beaver took revenge.
Although Wisagatcak had dismantled the dam, the water level did not go down. As a matter of fact, it began to rise! Soon the world began to flood. The Great Beaver and all the little beavers worked for two weeks making the waters of the Earth rise higher and higher. Wisagatcak, like Noah, built a raft and gathered animals on board with him. With no dry land to be found on Earth, a wolf that Wisagatcak saved helped him to make magic of his own. As moss grew on the raft, the wolf ran around and around causing the moss to expand thus creating a vast land mass.
The Arapaho of the Wyoming and Colorado plains, tell the story of when the world was covered in water. The story relates that there was a deluge, and all the world was covered in water. A man carrying a flat pipe walked around on the water for four days and four nights wondering what he could do to protect the pipe. For six more days he wept and fasted wandering the water. One the seventh day, he realized that the pipe need to rest on dry land. He called to the four directions to help him find land. Although there was no dry land around him, he called forth seven cottonwood trees and animals of the air and sea. He asked the creatures where to find dry land and the turtle told him it was at the bottom of the ocean. Soon, many animals dive in attempts to find the land but all fail. Finally, the turtle and the man dive together and succeed in bringing up some land. The man dried the bit of earth and cast it in the four directions thereby creating Earth.
Today, in caverns under mountains one can find ancient sea fossils. Our pink Himalayan salt comes from the Himalayan Mountains, but the salt itself came from the sea and was deposited on the mountains long, long, ago. Once upon a time, all the continents were gathered together in a great landmass called Pangea. Today there is a panic because the sea levels are rising, but in our past the sea levels were much greater. Where did these myths and legends of a flooded world originate? Again, cultures around the globe share a common thread. Within every legend rests a seed of truth.
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