This book explores stories of Earth...
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This book explores stories of Earth Creation: how the Earth, the rivers, the lakes, the oceans, the mountains, the valleys, the clouds, the sky, and the first animals and people came into being.
Stories that Crafted the Earth
The Man from Story Mountain
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This book explores stories of Earth Creation: how the Earth, the rivers, the lakes, the oceans, the mountains, the valleys, the clouds, the sky, and the first animals and people came into being.
These stories have been passed on orally for centuries. They not only inspire us to reach for the stars but they also teach us to respect the natural world, to respect other people, and to respect ourselves.
SURVIVAL INTERNATIONAL helps tribal peoples defend their lives, protect their lands and determine their own futures. An important part of this work involves increasing international awareness of the diversity of tribal peoples and an understanding of their lives, cultures and histories. This is vital because public opinion is always the most effective long-term force for change.
As more and more men, women and children learn about tribal peoples and care about what is happening to them today, we will make it harder, and eventually impossible, for governments and companies to continue stealing their land and violating their rights. This book, Stories that Crafted the Earth, will help by introducing readers to some of the world's 150 million tribal people through the beauty of their own stories. – Stephen Corry, Director of Survival International
These Earth creation stories are from the following cultures: • Aboriginal Australian: Dreamtime • Amazonian Indian: Yanomami • American/Canadian Indian: Blackfoot • American/Canadian Indian: Kwakiutl • American Indian: Hopi • Ancient Britain • Balinese • Celtic • Norse Viking • Tibetan
Under the name The Man from Story Mountain, ADRIAN BECKINGHAM is a professional storyteller. Years spent in Australia learning from Aboriginal people before settling in England, have given him valuable first-hand insights into how tribal cultures live. As a result, he realised that the morals of environmental sustainability and social cohesion, which are very present in these original creation stories, also inhabit the people's daily lives. He is well-known in England, Europe and Australia for his story-telling skills and is booked regularly into schools, psychiatric units and environmental projects to not only entertain, but also to bring alive the plight of indigenous peoples now whose land and rights are being threatened by governments and big business.
Ever since the dawn of language, Story has taught people important lessons about the cultures they live in and about the cultures of other times and peoples. Stories form an important part of our local, national and global heritage. They also enthrall the mind, open up the heart, and help make learning fun.
The Earth Creation stories of tribal peoples provide a lavish platform from which to investigate 'modern day' social and environmental concerns and solutions. Here, in the dawn of the second millennium, the technology-based inhabitants of the modern world are beginning to learn with gathering speed just how important respect for the Earth is to our existence.
When I was a co-ordinator of a major division of Greenpeace Australia, back in the early 1990s, very few scientists, let alone governments, believed that global warming even existed. Even fewer believed it could be a phenomenon created by modern day humanity's industrial lifestyle. Now, a mere decade later, global warming is widely accepted as the most dire threat facing the future quality of life for humans on this small planet we call home. Even the leading scientists of the planet's most powerful nation, and the nation to most drag its feet on environmental issues - the United States - are finally putting pressure on their government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Yet the problems do not stop there. From the ozone hole to deforestation and the collapse of fish stocks in our oceans and seas, the lifestyle of everyday citizens living in the industrialised world has much to answer for. Yet all these devices and ailments seem a world away to the peoples of our planet's tribal nations.
The tales of the hunter-gatherer tribespeople carry some important social and ecological lessons for us.
Some of these stories have been passed on for over 60,000 years of oral tradition. They are told with a rich celebration of dance, movement, music, costume, colour. Though diverse in content and cultural origin, Earth Creation tales often share common ground when illustrating humanity's fragile position as a tiny cog in an enormous life macrocosm. They teach us to respect the natural world, to respect other people, and to respect ourselves.
The stories tell how the Earth, the rivers, the lakes, the oceans, the mountains, the valleys, the clouds, the sky, the sun, the moon, the stars, and the first animals and people came into being. These tales influence and enrich the daily lives of the people whose tribal cultures hold them as sacred.
The modern contemporary technological world suffers from a deluge of fast-paced environmental degradation. In our so-called advanced societies, all too often the elderly are cast out and isolated into homes for the old, to see out the end of their days surrounded by death and dying. Our children are comforted in front of television sets and video games, so that increasingly more young children arrive at school unable to communicate with the live human beings around them. Marriage vows regularly last only as long as it takes for the divorce papers to arrive. Alcoholism and drug abuse are rife. Adolescents are expected to grow toward adulthood with no suitable guidance or initiations, no pride in themselves or their communities.
In direct opposition to this, the tribal cultures, whose stories appear in this book, have often managed to maintain societies in which environmental sustainability is a reality, and in which everyone, regardless of standing or age, has a valued role to play. In this book we touch upon many valuable teachings which tribal and ancient societies can offer, and we look at how the modern world has already eroded much that is valuable in the tribal societies mentioned here, illustrating the need to respect these peoples and their cultures, rather than destroy them.
This book is all about giving tribal peoples a voice. So I would now like to quote from Francis Firebrace, a good friend of mine with whom I have been on tour. I have taken him to a few of my more sacred storytelling sites, such as Chalice Well Gardens in Glastonbury, England, Spirit Horse in Wales, and Rainbow Camps, and he has taken me to a few of his. Francis is an Aboriginal Elder of the Yorta Yorta people in Australia. As the child of a European mother and Aboriginal father, Francis experienced the bitter racism which, from meagre beginnings, led to his parents fleeing 10,000 miles on a horse and sulky. Now he is a major spokesman for Aboriginal Australian people. He is celebrated as a vibrant and active custodian of Aboriginal Australian culture, receiving commendations not only from Australian Government High Commissioners, but most importantly, from other prominent Aboriginal Australians and their formal bodies. Nowadays he is internationally recognised as an Aboriginal Australian storyteller, artist, and dancer, and he spreads his message regularly through Europe and the United States. His work is a vital contribution to reconciliation in Australia and overseas. You will find some of his artwork and poetry in this book, which he has kindly donated. Here is some of his story:
"When the Europeans first landed, my people thought they were dead people - because of their white skin and soulless eyes. Two vastly different cultures clashed and of course they began to shoot and kill all the animals for sport, as the English do. My people had never killed for sport, they kill only to eat. They objected. The guns were turned on them. Very soon hostilities broke out to such a degree that when Captain Cook himself arrived, it is estimated that there were between six and eight thousand Aboriginals in the area. In fifty years there was less than five hundred. To get rid of us, to make way for the sheep and cattle, they poisoned water holes with arsenic, gave us flour with arsenic in it, killed whole families, and they gave us smallpox blankets from the victims on the ships and we died so fast we couldn't bury our dead. Atrocities were committed left right and centre.
"Slowly but surely, they herded us up, confined us into compounds that they called missions, they called them missions at that time, I think they call them settlements now. But missions, we were called. There was a white fella used to run the mission, and I can remember having to be back, the Aboriginal people having to be back by six o'clock of a night. Yea, a little bit like being in prison but you were let out during the day. I think a lot of people meant well. The churches did an enormous lot of damage. We weren't allowed to practise our language, our culture, tell the stories, the boys and girls were taken away from their parents to ah... they were going to civilise the blacks. So now we are down to the 21st century and things are starting to slowly pick up. A lot of areas are now getting back their culture, or trying to get what's left of it back. As the Yorta Yorta people, my people, are doing.
"I believe that people should have their allotment of land, their sacred land, to retain their identity and their cultural beliefs. And we should, instead of trying to change peoples cultures, we should encourage them to embrace their culture and to share it with other people. You know, if the world shares their cultures with one another, what a wonderful world it will be.
"I say stand up and fight for your rights, but I don't mean that in a physical sense. I mean stand together united and you demand justice. Because everybody needs justice and everybody has a right to justice, and to love and to be free on their land. Whether it be Aboriginals or other people. Our land was stolen, and now natural justice, even though you might sweep it under the carpet as a bad habit, these things are coming out from under the carpet all the time. The best way to end all these conflicts is to give people back their rightful ownership of their land, so that they can walk free on their land, live as they choose, not as somebody else depicts it. So these people, their land was stolen with aggression, with war, and it was stolen off them. They have every right to have their land back... However, we should not take land from areas, ah, from land where people live on it. We have to consider our brothers and sisters, even though, if they have got a skin of white, it doesn't matter, we are all brothers and sisters. But we have to learn to come together in peace. But of course land rights are a very important issue. And moral issues, there are many laws in Australia but very little justice.
Much the same as here in England and most westernised societies. So-called free societies aren't very free. And so-called societies that are supposed to be really cool have stolen a lot from indigenous people, and that needs to be looked at.
"My people didn't own anything. But they had a right to be on that part of the land. The land owned them. The Earth owns us, we don't own the Earth. We are merely visitors in the land of the living. We are only visitors here. Aren't we? The Earth will go on living, but we are only visitors, we are only here for a while. We are all butterflies.
"If you ask the obvious question, 'Why storytelling?' I'll give an obvious answer. Why storytelling? Because if you're brought up and you understand that you've got a culture, you'd understand why storytelling. Storytelling is the most powerful way, spiritual way, to reach people's hearts and sow seeds. That's exactly how my people done it. The Aboriginal people of Australia handed down their stories from one generation to another. It's been proven now for at least 176,000 years.
"Let's talk about the dimensions of reconciliation. Poetry, writing, stories, that's all the dimensions of reconciliation, so yes it plays a big role... There's some really well known Aboriginal poets and authors who write quite powerful stuff... I read one of my poems on the Sydney Harbour Bridge walk when quarter of a million people turned out and I spoke on one of the three centre stages. And that was received very well. 'So brothers and sisters come give me your hand, and we'll share in the dreaming of this ancient land' was the way it ended. And of course that's great, it was a reconciliation walk and it fitted in well. I like to tell the truth, and then ah, end on a positive note. But the truth isn't always positive - although it is, the truth's always positive. Like antiseptic on a wound, it stings initially, and then it heals. So that's positive.
"The natural way of storytelling is the most powerful spiritual way to reach people, open their hearts, and sow the seeds of truth. Which badly needs to be done, not only for the Aboriginal people but for all people."
Powerful words, but the reader may ask what can be done about it? There is a section at the back of the book written by Survival International, a registered charity who are at the forefront of protecting the rights of tribal peoples around the world. They describe here some of the indigenous cultures which the book covers, including their history, culture, contemporary threats, and how readers can help stop the cultures eroding. If you are touched by the ancient tales, or the accounts of these peoples' plights, you are the only one who can decide for yourself to respond.
It may seem at first a little strange that this book places the ancient tales of our European ancestors, such as stories from Ancient Britain, the Celts, and the Vikings, alongside tales from contemporary tribal cultures such as the Yanomami and the Kwakwaka'wakw (also called Kwakiutl). Firstly, my aim is to illustrate that the beliefs of the ancestors of the people of our modern technological world were not such a far cry from the beliefs of tribal peoples who are even now so desperately struggling to survive our colonisation of their lands. Secondly, it is hoped that this little cauldron of tales may actually work its magic, and imbue a greater awareness that we are all human beings, after all, and that respect - of ourselves, of each other, and of our natural world - is a vital part of this understanding.
Bearing in mind that many of the cultures whose stories are represented here have been colonised, and become endangered, through British colonialism, I would like now to quote from a passage written in the early 1990s by a high standing member of the British Monarchy - after all it was in the name of the British Monarchy that many of the original acts of colonialism took place. HRH Prince Charles wrote a foreword to Jonathon Porritt's book Save The Earth. In it Prince Charles mentioned the importance of ancient mythologies as a key player in halting modern day environmental and social devastation.
He wrote: "Every ancient society seems to have been governed and influenced by mythology. While to the modern way of thinking the myths of the past may seem primitive and irrelevant to a technological society, I would contend that it is precisely because we have lost sight of those myths, and failed to see their true significance in unconscious terms, that our whole approach to life and to our natural environment has become so unbalanced.
"It is perhaps worth recalling what a myth is. It is a narrative or fable having a meaning attached to it other than that which is obvious when it is taken literally... The inner aspects of truth, when presented in literal language, are liable to be misunderstood, and therefore all great religions and philosophies have made use of myth and allegory for veiling (and at the same revealing to those who have eyes to see) their profoundest truths. Our ancestors may not have developed a sophisticated technology, but their insight into the hidden, unconscious aspects of the laws of nature was simple and profound and in one sense more sophisticated than our own."
There are many themes which recur across the spectrum of oral traditions represented in this book, such as the idea that our world is merely one of several worlds. The Celts, the Vikings, the Yanomami and the Hopi, for example, all say our world is one of four physical worlds - each world existing alongside the others on a vertical plain and forming part of the chain in the cycle of humanity's physical or spiritual existence. Also the idea is here that humans evolved almost from animals or trees in an act of magical transformation: the Dreamtime story of the Aboriginal Australians tells how the Rainbow Serpent transformed those ancestral beings whose dreams best benefited the world, into human beings. The Yanomami story tells how all humans were originally half animal, and that it is only after the sky fell that the animals shed the human half of their bodies, but kept the human half of their spirits intact. The Yanomami say the humans of today were crafted by Omao and Soawe from poli and palm trees. The Hopi story relates that all humans were originally animals, but were given the gift of humanity in the third world by magical beings from the stars, before climbing into this fourth world which we inhabit today. The Kwakwaka'wakw say that Raven watched as people were born from elderberry trees. And so on.
All the cultures touched upon in this book demonstrate a strong belief that humans are part of a wide and vast web of spiritual existence, and that through song or dance or story or prayer or dreaming, spirit guardians in the form of animals or deities may be called upon to aid us and heal us and give us helpful advice as to the future direction our lives should take. This is, in my opinion, advice well worth heeding.
Next time you see a bird fly across your path, take a moment to wonder at its meaning, and thank the bird for its providence. Next time you take a swim in the ocean, praise the sweet mystery of its waves. Next time you drink fresh water, praise it as it enters your body. Have you ever sung for the sun to come up? I know people who sing every day. They believe that were no one to sing, the sun would stop rising. Foolish, you say? I guess it stands the test of time, since the sun has always come up - and there has always been someone singing. Give it a try. You may be surprised just how good it feels.
If you would like some obvious examples of how ancient tales have manifested themselves into the real world of today, the Hopi story concludes with a message from the Creator, Maasaw. Maasaw tells how, if people choose selfish and arrogant ways of life, then the motion of the Earth will be pushed out of place. When the balance is tipped, so that there are more people who live selfishly than with an open heart - when there are more people who mock those who sing to the sun than there are those who do the singing - at this moment, the end of the world shall begin and the spirit world shall arise and display its power. When this happens, a colossal wave shall ripple across the seas of the world, and it shall devastate below its watery force the inhabitants of many lands in different parts of the globe. It would be difficult to learn of this ancient tale, without thinking of the recent Tsunami which afflicted the lands and peoples of several nations.
When the Tsunami struck, the world reeled in horror. Many of the world's most prominent religious leaders said that the disaster had shaken their faith - how could their God allow such an event to occur? Yet the Hopi prophecy not only explains it, it foretells it. The Hopi tale goes on to say that eventually the oceans will swallow all the world's land like a sea of dead souls. People everywhere will die. Even the Hopi land of Oraibi, nestled deep in the dry heartland of the great Nevada desert - even here shall be consumed in the relentless rise of the oceans, and shall disappear in the end. However, there is an out-clause. If people live with open hearts and listen to spirit, if they give up their selfish pride and are willing to slow down their lives and have only the possessions they really need, so that there is enough for all, then the Great Spirit will be pleased and we shall all be spared. But it is not a case of sit back and let everyone else be the first to respond. It is left up to each and every individual to play his or her part, and the time is now or never.
On a slightly different bent, the Ancient British tale of GogMagog could be seen as an analogy of the broken family and particularly the devastation that occurs if fathers are denied their role of interaction with their children. In an environment where they lack none of life's material riches, the princesses nonetheless are separated from their father through his busy life as a ruler of kingdoms. They plot cruel murder, and are banished in retribution. Then, having found a fertile new land, for a while their redemption seems complete, only to be tarnished by lust and the magical scheming of the Incubi. Then the giants themselves are raised by their mothers without a father in sight. The giants grow to feud amongst themselves, meaning they are weak and disorganised in their time of need. Taken literally, it may seem fantastic and implausible, but look at the state of fatherhood in 21st century Britain, and this story starts to make sense. Recent research available in the press suggests that as many as 90% of all men and women currently in British prisons were raised without a father near to hand. In a recent study of British families, the involvement of fathers when the children were aged between 7 and 11 was deemed the best prediction for the child gaining good school results when they were aged 16, and also of them avoiding a criminal record by the time they were 21. Studies in the United States show that having a dad around - even in a separated family - is the best way of reducing antisocial or criminal behaviour. This list could go on, but surely it is better for you to read the stories, and decide what they mean to you.
All these tales are very ancient, and nothing survives in this world, cherished and held sacred for many generations, if it lacks either power or meaning. These stories are treasures beyond price. They have changed and saved many lives. I have worked in hundreds of schools and have repeatedly seen children who suffer from severe learning difficulties or clinically assessed behavioural problems, become fully attentive and beneficially involved with these stories. In such settings, children with the most troubled minds shine equally alongside their more able peers. I also work on a weekly basis with adults who have suffered from often severe mental illness. These individuals will be the first to testify that the stories have guided them to recover power and confidence within their own lives. These stories contain deep medicine to transform and heal. I hope they may lighten your heart and open your mind and lift your dreamings into realms of incredible beauty and vibrant transformation. May every breath you breathe, every word you utter, every act you create, be one of light hearted gladness and responsible custodianship from this time forth!
I would like to point out that I have gone to pains to respect, as far as possible, all the traditions and the stories represented in these pages. It is certainly of great importance that readers recognise that not one of the stories offered here is a full and unequivocal representation of the creation myth as told by the tribal culture the stories are claimed to arise from. Remember, that within each tribal nation there are very many different clans, often speaking different languages and holding different beliefs. Whether it be the Aboriginal Australians, the Blackfoot, the Hopi, the Kwakwaka'wakw, the Yanomami or any other of the traditions detailed here, the stories offered are only one version of a vast chorus of different voices within that tradition. Therefore, I would like to extend my apologies to anyone who reads these pages and says "No, that is not how it happened at all!"
All I can say is that I have been true to the telling, and have retold the stories here as they were first told to me. To those who would say such stories should not be written down at all, I would simply suggest that the world is slipping down the plughole toward its doom with frightening speed. I believe now is the time, and we are the people, to do something about it. For we are all we have. The world is a small place. Some say that ignorance is bliss - but ignorance and lethargy are destroying our planet and annihilating sustainable tribal societies and their peoples. Understanding betters ignorance, and brotherhood betters prejudice, every time. I put these stories forth as valuable testimony to the beauty of humanity and the power of our communal psyche. If the 'facts' presented in these pages differ from those which you already love and cherish, please accept my apologies, and listen with an open heart... For no storytelling is complete without storylisteners. And the world needs people who can listen with an open heart and an open mind, if ever we are to achieve world peace. It is my express and deep hope that these stories will rekindle in your hearts and souls an awakened remembering of our common humanity, rather than just another opportunity to argue over our differences.
To tell the truth, part of the challenge was not so much what to include, but what not to! How can a book on earth creation stories make no mention of the Greek Classics? Or of the wonderful tales from the vast lands of Russia? There is no mention of the sword that was drawn from the sea and created the world, as told in the creation saga of Japan. Nowhere in these pages does Nut, the Sky Goddess of Ancient Egypt, rise for her daily birthing of the Sun... And what of the Inuit of Alaska, or the Kalahari Bushmen of Africa? Their tales are vivid and beautiful and powerful. Their current plight and needs as tribal peoples battling the onslaught of the modern world is every bit as urgent.
But the dilemma was, as with so many things in this world today, time and space and economics. We have created here an illustrated book of 320 pages - a sizeable account by any reckoning. A sizeable account - but nowhere near large enough to hold the oral histories of the world! It has proven enough to keep this writer, and hopefully, most readers, occupied for some time.
And if this book does prove to do its job well, we can always look forward to Stories that Crafted the Earth Volume II. For the stories in this volume, and the vast arena of those which are not included, have survived since the beginning of time. They have survived since the beginning, and they will last until the end. They shall not die out until the last tree has fallen, until the last song has died, until the last word has been spoken, until the last river has dried, until the last breath has been sighed. Only when the last person in all the world has died - then the spirit inside these stories will be gone. Then there shall be a period of silence... for a while.
Until then, we are all living inside the stories of the ancients - and by this I mean not just ancient spear-throwing ancestors of the modernised technological world, but those tribal peoples who still live within the ancient fold, as their own ancestors did thousands of years ago. We live inside the dream of these stories, just as the dreaming of them lives inside of us. All we need do is open our eyes, our ears, our minds, our hearts, and recognise they have always been there! It is up to us, to me, to you, to find your happy thought... plant it, tend it, dream it. Watch it seed, and feel the wind in your hair and the sun upon your face as you stretch your eagle wings and lift into the sky.