Jesus and the Coyote: Similarities between Biblical Literature and Native American Mythology

Recently I’ve been reading native american legends and folklore as research for my apocalyptic novels (the Parousia series). I’ve been, basically, floored by how much similarity there is between Old Testament mythology and Native American legends. I’ve also been amazed at how Native Americans talk about Coyote or other creator-figures, traveling to the East, having children and then bringing them back to populate the Americas. Or in other myths, how God created a covenant with them, signed it on two big stone tablets, which will be reunited when the Lost White Brother comes back from Europe with his half of the tablet, initiating a new era of peace and understanding. (This is particularly relevant for my protagonist/antichrist character who will lead humanity against the invasion of an alien race in the name of freedom).

There are myths about the great battle between the lord of the underworld and the lord of the skies, which end in the former being imprisoned under earth. There are myths about Kwatee (one of the names of Coyote or the Trickster god, who is, like Prometheus, a fire-bringer) saving his mother from a giant sea monster by defeating it (similar to revelations). There are myths about a woman who is a snake’s lover and poisons all of her husbands (reminiscent of the Garden of Eden story and the Loss of Innocence). There are also ubiquitous flood myths and creation out of dirt myths.

I was also surprised at Native American astrological and “scientific” knowledge. They seemed to know that a) the earth is round b) the sun was made of fire c) the precession of the equinoxes (see the Pawnee Legend below) and d) they had constellations – the Bull especially, that are the same as early Sumerian/Babylonian ones. The similarities between ancient Mesopotamian and early Native American mythology strengthens the argument (which can already be well made) in early contact, most probably between Phoenicians and natives, as early as around 500BC).

Although it won’t be anytime soon, there is more than enough material to organize into a really interesting non-fiction research book, so I’m putting it into my list of books to write. I picked out the title already (see this post’s title). It will be a couple of years, but I’ll get it done.

Here’s some reading for those interested – see if you can see the parallels!

A Passamaquoddy Legend

Of old times. There was a very beautiful woman. She turned the heads of all the men. She married, and her husband died very soon after, but she immediately took another. Within a single year she had five husbands, and these were the cleverest and handsomest and bravest in the tribe. And then she married again.

This, the sixth, was such a silent man that he passed for a fool. But he was wiser than people thought. He came to believe, by thinking it over, that this woman had some strange secret. He resolved to find it out. So he watched her all the time. He kept his eye on her by night and by day.

It was summer, and she proposed to go into the woods to pick berries, and to camp there. By and by, when they were in the forest, she suggested that he should go on to the spot where they intended to remain and build a wigwam. He said that he would do so. But he went a little way into the woods and watched her.

As soon as she believed that he was gone, she rose and walked rapidly onwards. He followed her, unseen. She went on, till, in a deep, wild place among the rocks, she came to a pond. She sat down and sang a song. A great foam, or froth, rose to the surface of the water. Then in the foam appeared the tail of a serpent. The creature was of immense size.

The woman, who had laid aside all her garments, embraced the serpent, which twined around her, enveloping all her limbs and body in his folds. The husband watched it all. He now understood that, the venom of the serpent having entered the woman, she had saved her life by transferring it to others, who died.

He went on to the camping ground and built a wigwam. He made up two beds; he built a fire. His wife came. She was earnest that there should be only a single bed. He sternly bade her lie by herself. She was afraid of him. She lay down, and went to sleep. He arose three times during the night to replenish the fire. Every time he called her, and there was no answer. In the morning he shook her. She was dead. She had died by the poison of the serpent. They sunk her in the pond where the snake lived.

 

A Papago Legend

Long ago, they say, when the Earth was not yet finished, darkness lay upon the water and they rubbed each other. The sound they made was like the sound at the edge of a pond.

There, on the water, in the darkness, in the noise, and in a very strong wind, a child was born. One day he got up and found something stuck to him. It was algae. So he took some of the algae and from it made the termites. The termites gathered a lot of algae and First Born tried to decide how to make a seat so the wind could not blow it anywhere. This is the song he sang:

Earth Medicine Man finished the Earth.

Come near and see it and do something to it.

He made it round.

Come near and see it and do something to it.

In this way, First Born finished the Earth. Then he made all animal life and plant life.

There was neither sun nor moon then, and it was always dark. The living things didn’t like the darkness, so they got together and told First Born to make something so that the Earth would have light. Then the people would be able to see each other and live contentedly with each other.

So First Born said, “All right. You name what will come up in the Sky to give you light.”

They discussed it thoroughly and finally agreed that it would be named “sun”.

Next First Born made the moon and stars, and the paths that they always follow. He said, “There will be plenty of prickly pears and the people will always be happy.”

That’s the way First Born prepared the Earth for us. Then he went away.

Then the Sky came down and met the Earth, and the first one to come forth was I’itoi, our Elder Brother.

The Sky met the Earth again, and Coyote came forth.

The Sky met the Earth again, and Buzzard came forth.

Elder Brother, Earth Magician, and Coyote began their work of creation, each creating things different from the other. Elder Brother created people out of clay and gave then the “crimson evening,” which is regarded by the Tohono O’odham as one of the most beautiful sights in the region. The sunset light is reflected on the mountains with a peculiar radiance.

Elder Brother told the Tohono O’odham to remain where they were in that land which is the center of all things.

And there the desert people have always lived. They are living there this very day. And from his home among the towering cliffs and crags of Baboquivari, the lonely, cloud-veiled peak, their Elder Brother, I’itoi, spirit of goodness, who must dwell in the center of all things, watches over them.

A Pawnee Legend

Tirawa Atius is the lord of all things and it is he alone who determines fate. At the beginning of the world, he set a large bull buffalo in the sky to the far northwest. With the passage of each year, the bull loses one hair; when all these hairs are gone, the world will end. As that hair falls, there will be widespread meteor showers, and the sun and moon will become dim.

In the beginning, Tirawa Atius appointed the North Star and the South Star to control fate. The North Star once spoke directly to the Pawnee and told them that the South Star moved just a little bit to the north with each passing year. When the South Star catches up with the North Star, then the world will end.

The command for the final destruction of the world is in the hands of the four gods of the directions. The West will issue the command that the world be destroyed and the East will obey. Then the stars in heaven will fall to the new earth and become people. The people left in this world at the time of destruction will fly high into the sky and become stars themselves.

A Pima Legend

After the world was ready, Earth Doctor made all kinds of animals and creeping things. Then he made images of clay, and told them to be people. After a while there were so many people that there was not food and water enough for all.

They were never sick and none died. At last there grew to be so many they were obliged to eat each other. Then Earth Doctor, because he could not give them food and water enough, killed them all. He caught the hook of his staff into the sky and pulled it down so that it crushed all the people and all the animals, until there was nothing living on the earth. Earth Doctor made a hole through the earth with his stick, and through that he went, coming out safe, but alone, on the other side.

He called upon the sun and moon to come out of the wreck of the world and sky, and they did so. But there was no sky for them to travel through, no stars, and no Milky Way. So Earth Doctor made these all over again. Then he created another race of men and animals.

Then Coyote was born. Moon was his mother. When Coyote was large and strong he came to the land where the Pima Indians lived.

Then Elder Brother was born. Earth was his mother, and Sky his father. He was so powerful that he spoke roughly to Earth Doctor, who trembled before him. The people began to increase in numbers, just as they had done before, but Elder Brother shortened their lives, so the earth did not become so crowded. But Elder Brother did not like the people created by Earth Doctor, so he planned to destroy them again. So Elder Brother planned to create a magic baby. . . .

The screams of the baby shook the earth. They could be heard for a great distance. Then Earth Doctor called all the people together, and told them there would be a great flood. He sang a magic song and then bored a hole through the flat earth-plain through to the other side. Some of the people went into the hole to escape the flood that was coming, but not very many got through. Some of the people asked Elder Brother to help them, but he did not answer. Only Coyote he answered. He told Coyote to find a big log and sit on it, so that he would float on the surface of the water with the driftwood. Elder Brother got into a big olla which he had made, and closed it tight. So he rolled along on the ground under the olla. He sang a magic song as he climbed into his olla.

A young man went to the place where the baby was screaming. Its tears were a great torrent which cut gorges in the earth before it. The water was rising all over the earth. He bent over the child to pick it up, and immediately both became birds and flew above the flood. Only five birds were saved from the flood. One was a flicker and one a vulture. They clung by their beaks to the sky to keep themselves above the waters, but the tail of the flicker was washed by the waves and that is why it is stiff to this day. At last a god took pity on them and gave them power to make “nests of down” from their own breasts on which they floated on the water. One of these birds was the vipisimal, and if any one injures it to this day, the flood may come again.

Now South Doctor called his people to him and told them that a flood was coming. He sang a magic song and he bored a hole in the ground with a cane so that people might go through to the other side. Others he sent to Earth Doctor, but Earth Doctor told them they were too late. So they sent the people to the top of a high mountain called Crooked Mountain. South Doctor sang a magic song and traced his cane around the mountain, but that held back the waters only for a short time. Four times he sang and traced a line around the mountain, yet the flood rose again each time. There was only one thing more to do.

He held his magic crystals in his left hand and sang a song. Then he struck it with his cane. A thunder peal rang through the mountains. He threw his staff into the water and it cracked with a loud noise. Turning, he saw a dog near him. He said, “How high is the tide?” The dog said, “It is very near the top.” He looked at the people as he said it. When they heard his voice they all turned to stone. They stood just as they were, and they are there to this day in groups: some of the men talking, some of the women cooking, and some crying.

But Earth Doctor escaped by enclosing himself in his reed staff, which floated upon the water. Elder Brother rolled along in his olla until he came near the mouth of the Colorado River. The olla is now called Black Mountain. After the flood he came out and visited all parts of the land.

When he met Coyote and Earth Doctor, each claimed to have been the first to appear after the flood, but at last they admitted Elder Brother was the first, so he became ruler of the world.

 

A Pima Legend

In the state of Arizona, the Pima Indian tribe declares that the father of all men and animals was Great Butterfly–Cherwit Make, meaning the Earth- Maker.

One day long ago, Great Butterfly fluttered down from the clouds to the Blue Cliffs, where two rivers met, later called the Verde and Salt rivers. There he made man from his own sweat.

From that day on the people multiplied, but in time they grew selfish and quarrelsome. Earth-Maker became annoyed with their behavior and decided it might be best to drown all of them.

But first, he thought to warn them through the voices of the winds.

“People of the Pima tribe,” called North Wind. “Sky Spirit warns you to be honest with one another and to live in peace from now on.”

Suha, Shaman of the Pimas, interpreted to the people what North Wind had warned them about.

“What a fool you are, Suha, to listen to the voices of the winds,” taunted his tribesmen.

On the next night, the same warning from Earth-Maker was repeated by East Wind, who added, “Chief Sky Spirit warns that all of you will be destroyed by floods if you do not live nobler lives.”

Again, the Pimas mocked the winds and ignored their warnings. Next night, West Wind spoke, “Reform, people of the Pimas, or your evil ways will destroy you.”

Then South Wind breathed into Suha’s ear, “Suha, you and your good wife are the only people worth saving. Go and make a large, hollow ball of spruce gum in which you and your wife can live a long as the coming flood will last.”

Because Suha and his wife believed the warnings and were obedient, they set to work immediately on a high hill, gathering spruce gum and shaping it into a large hollow ball. They stocked it with plenty of nuts, acorns, water, and bear and deer meats.

Near the appointed time, Suha and his good wife looked down sadly upon the lovely green valley. They heard the songs of the harvesters. They sighed to think of the beauty about them that would be destroyed when the flood came because of the people’s selfishness. Suddenly, a bright lightning flash and loud thunder rocked the Blue Cliffs. It was a signal for the flood to begin.

Suha and his wife went into the gum-ball ark and closed the door tightly. Swirling, dark clouds surrounded them. Torrents of rain poured down everywhere. For many days, the ark rolled and tossed about on the deepening sea.

After many, many moons, the downpour of rain stopped. The ark settled upon the land again, high on a mountaintop. Suha opened the door and stepped forth to see a tuna cactus growing near his feet. He and his wife ate some of the red fruit of the cactus plant. Below them, they saw water everywhere.

That night they retired again to the ark. They must have slept a very long time, because when they awoke the water had disappeared, the valleys were green, and the bird songs rang forth again.

Suha and his wife descended from Superstition Mountain, a name later given to the mountain upon which the ark had landed. They went down into the fertile valley and lived there for a thousand years. The forthcoming people prospered, becoming known as the Pima tribe.

These Pimas later believed a story that an evil one named Hauk lived behind Superstition Mountain. He was also called the “Devil of Superstition Mountain” because he tried to steal daughters from the Pimas.

One day, Hauk secretly descended into Pima valley, where the women were busy weaving. He stole one of Suha’s daughters. Suha followed Hauk to his home behind Superstition Mountain, where he observed his daughter treated as a servant-girl by Hauk.

Suha poisoned the cactus wine that his daughter served Hauk. When he drank it, Hauk died instantly. After that the world seemed less wicked, but always the Pimas feared that Hauk’s evil spirit still lurked behind Superstition Mountain.

Suha, Shaman and inspired leader of the Pima tribe, taught his people to build adobe houses, to dig gardens with bones and stones, to irrigate their lands from the rivers; to raise sheep, horses, and cattle, and, above all, to live in peace with one another.

On his dying day, Suha gathered his people and foretold:

“If you ever grow arrogant with wealth, if you ever become covetous of others’ lands, if you ever make war for gain, if you ever disgrace yourselves before Chief of the Sky Spirits–another flood will come upon you.

“If that happens again, bad persons will never be saved; only good persons will eventually live with the Sun-God.”

Since that time, Pimas have believed Suha’s prophecies; and they never, never go onto Superstition Mountain.

But their people love to tell the story of why and how the gum- ball ark landed on Superstition Mountain, saving Suha and his good wife, who became the beloved ancestors of their large and important Pima Tribe.