Page:The American Indian.djvu/240

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CHAPTER XIII


MYTHOLOGY

Under the general name of folklore, we have a more or less distinct department of inquiry, with its own particular societies and journals whose supporters consider the whole unwritten literature of the earth as their province, whether it pertains to primitive groups or to the most advanced nations. However, in our country, the American Folk-Lore Society has given its attention almost wholly to the mythology of the aborigines. Every such tribe, so far examined, has been found to possess two kinds of tales, those referring to a previous order of events, and those having to do with the present. The latter take the form of anecdotes, hero tales, etc., and, regardless of the many fictitious elements they contain, have the form of narratives of real events. The former deal with a period in which the world was taking shape and the present order of things evolving. While it may be true that a tribe will regard one of these two classes of tales as worthy of belief as the other, they yet recognize them as different. In this volume we shall designate as myths all tales that deal with this mythical pre-world, or that partake of the mythical style.

In the first place, the myths of the world embody one universal feature: namely, that the animals and heavenly bodies are endowed with human qualities and associate with man indiscriminately. One can scarcely find a well-developed tale in which animals, heavenly bodies, or both, together, do not play the part of human beings. Another peculiarity is that but rarely do any of these tales convey a moral or even pretend to exemplify worthy ideals. In fact, we often find the standard of ethics and morals of the tales much at variance with the tribe of the narrator. On the other hand, these tales frequently profess to convey information as to the origins of specific features in the modern world. Thus, the alternation of day