Creation stories describe the origins of the cosmos and the interrelations of its elements. Among these tales is what scholars often refer to as the “Earth Diver myth”. This is a story where a Great Spirit or cultural hero dives, or orders animals to dive, into the primeval water to bring back mud, out of which the Earth is fashioned. In some versions of the story, Earth is formed on the back of a turtle; Turtle Island is a popular name used by certain Indigenous peoples for the land of North America.
Creation stories also tell about the origin of the moon, the sun, the stars, and human beings. These tales can act as histories and/ or lessons about the environment, the heavens, and human’s relationship to the world and to one another. In many of these stories, tricksters and transformers, beings with superhuman powers, often play an active role, as they help to create the world as we know it and to guide humanity.
Tricksters take on a variety of forms in Indigenous cultures. They can be male or female, foolish or helpful, hero or troublemaker, half-human-half-spirit, old or young, a spirit, a human or an animal, depending on the area and the specific nation. Some examples of tricksters include Coyote (Mohawk), Nanabush or Nanabozo (Ojibwe) and Raven (Haida, Tsimshian, Tlingit, Inuit and Nisga’a).
Transformers or shape-shifters are beings that can change shape, from human to animal to inanimate object. One example of a transformer is Glooscap of the Mi’kmaq, Wolastoqiyik, Abenaki, and Algonquian peoples. Glooscap formed the sun, moon, fish, animals and humans, whereas his brother Malsum (another transformer) created snakes, mountains, valleys, and anything else he thought would make life difficult for humans.
Some Indigenous folklore also includes culture heroes, prominent figures in a particular nation’s spiritual beliefs. In some tales, these beings make a perilous journey to the realm of the dead to bring back a deceased loved one. These stories contain detailed characterizations of the land of the dead, and are important to an understanding of diverse phenomena, such as concepts of the soul and many aspects of shamanism.1
- Thecanadianencyclopedia.ca. 2021. Religion and Spirituality of Indigenous Peoples in Canada | The Canadian Encyclopedia. [online] Available at: https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/religion-of-aboriginal-people [Accessed 12 February 2021].