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‘By The Book’: Cherokee I

Posted on October 4th, 2013 by Don Cerow

      “Throughout legends around the world, power over the elemental forces of nature have been associated with the Dragon, especially in Chinese, Japanese and Malaysian cultures, but they are found in the West as well.”

“Hercules must save a kingdom beset by a Dragon vomiting floods in one variation on a familiar story.”

“The Serpent’s most famous character role in Greece was as Typhon, who chased the entire pantheon of Gods across the Mediterranean to the Nile, Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. While there, each deity disguised themselves in various forms in order to escape his fury.”

“In Mayan mythology, we are introduced to him as Huracan, a term now associated with hurricanes and the tropical storms of the Caribbean.”

“So, say hello to our Mayan Dragon. The Maya knew him as Kukulkan, the Quiche as Gukumatz, the Aztecs thought of him as Quetzalcoatl andTlaloc but it doesn’t stop there. In Zapotec mythology, he is Cocijo. We are talking about a fairly small geographic area here, yet one filled with linguistic diversity. Other labels are TohilBolon and Tzacab which brings us to an important point.”

“With every people, with every culture, you have different languages. With different languages, come different names and labels. With different names we might imagine different identities, unless, of course, it was the same image that kept coming up using different names. Even the myth gives us a whole heavenly host of names for the same spiritual entity. Most of them translate to ‘Feathered Serpent’. We have been told that this design was arranged by the ‘the Heart of Heaven’ who is Huracan.”

When the Dragon Wore the Crown, p. 74.

In the book, as quoted above, the focus is on the Native Americans of Central America, but how far is that from the Indians of the Southwest, or even the Southeast US? In the Native American Wars with the colonies for the Great Lakes, Pontiac was known to travel from Canada to the southern states in an effort to raise common cause to collectively stop the white man’s western expansion.

And if Pontiac could travel the great distances of the Americas in a lifetime, why couldn’t the essence of these cultural clues pass together with objects traded (which they were) from tribe to tribe across the course of centuries?

Avanyu is a Tewa deity, found sketched in the rock art and pottery of Arizona and New Mexico. It is represented as a horned or plumed serpent, with its body shaped like a lightning bolt. It is surmised that Avanyu may be related to the Central American Dragons, and indeed, to the indigenous peoples of the Southeast.

Lightning and Crown

The names have been changed to protect the innocent.

It is often the mythic qualities of our Dragon that give him away. Those who have studied the Great Snake find themes of storms, hurricanes, lightning and a special treasure around the world, together with the hoard or prize which he guards. Like the Hoop Snake of the Southeast, he (grabs and) chases his tail, around and around. Long ago this guardian marked the North Celestial Pole, the center of heaven.  The Dragon could be occasionally spotted peeking out at us from behind the clouds, but could also be found either up a tree or hidden in a deep pond or body of water like the Chinese and Native American traditions.
We have spoken of other myths that contain these qualities, and now we turn to the Cherokee. See how many mythic clues you can spot.

A man living down in Georgia came to visit some relatives at Hickory-log. He was a great hunter, and after resting in the house a day or two got ready to go into the mountains. His friends warned him not to go toward the north, as in that direction, near a certain large uprooted tree, there lived a dangerous monster Uksu’hï snake. It kept constant watch, and whenever it could spring upon an unwary hunter it would coil about him and crush out his life in its folds and then drag the dead body down the mountain side into a deep hole in Hiwassee.”

   He listened quietly to the warning, but all they said only made him the more anxious to see such a monster, so, without saying anything of his intention, he left the settlement and took his way directly up the mountain toward the north. Soon he came to the fallen tree and climbed upon the trunk, and there, sure enough, on the other side was the great Uksu’hï stretched out in the grass, with its head raised, but looking the other way. It was about so large [making a circle of a foot in diameter with his hands]. The frightened hunter got down again at once and started to run; but the snake had heard the noise and turned quickly and was after him. Up the ridge the hunter ran, the snake close behind him, then down the other side toward the river. With all his running the Uksu’hi gained rapidly, and just as he reached the low ground it caught up with him and wrapped around him, pinning one arm down by his side, but leaving the other free.”

 

   Now it gave him a terrible squeeze that almost broke his ribs, and then began to drag him along toward the water. With his free hand the hunter clutched at the bushes as they passed, but the snake turned its head and blew its sickening breath into his face until he had to let go his hold. Again and again this happened, and all the time they were getting nearer to a deep hole in the river, when, almost at the last moment, a lucky thought came into the hunter’s mind.

 

      He was sweating all over from his hard run across the mountain, and suddenly remembered to have heard that snakes can not bear the smell of perspiration. Putting his free hand into his bosom he worked it around under his armpit until it was covered with perspiration. Then withdrawing it he grasped at a bush until the snake turned its head, when he quickly slapped his sweaty hand on its nose. The Uksu’hi gave one gasp almost as if it had been wounded, loosened its coil, and glided swiftly away through the bushes, leaving the hunter, bruised but not disabled, to make his way home to Hickory-log.

 

First of all, the North is specified twice, and the Dragon, our Uksu’hi in this incarnation as the great snake, is to be found close to a certain uprooted Tree. These three images, the Dragon, North and the Tree, are found almost universally around the globe. For thousands of years, the head of the Serpent comes down to lay itself on the Earth ‘as it sleeps’ (in the Chinese tradition). In the Spring, Summer and Fall, the head of the Dragon ‘looks away’ from those on Earth. It is only in the late Fall and Winter that the Dragon ‘looks back’ to the Earth. This is simply observational astronomy. As usual with most Dragon myths, death hangs in the balance; either the death of the Dragon, the heroes’ dear companions (Greek and Egyptian traditions), or even the hero himself.

The poisonous breath is a common mythic motif in Norse and and Hindu traditions. Astronomy even marks one of the Draco’s stars as his poisonous breath, 26 Draconis, located just below the jaws of the Dragon.

Twin serpents

Here are a few other Southeastern Native American tribe names for the ‘Great Snake’. Any culture using a calendar looked to the heavens to understand the cycles of time. Spearing, hunting, shooting or stabbing the Dragon helped to determine the accurate Center of Heaven, around which the Circle of Heaven properly rides. Across the land this image extends, just as the Central American natives had different names for the ‘feathered serpent’, the flying snake…

…our Dragon.

Misi-kinepikw (Great Snake)- Cree
Msi-kinepikwa (Great Snake)- Shawnee
Misi-ginebig (Great Snake)- Oji-Cree
Mishi-ginebig (Great Snake)- Ojibwe
Pita-skog (Great Snake)- Abenaki
Sinti lapitta- Choctaw
Untehi or Untehila- Dakota
Olobit- Natchez
Uktena- Aniyunwiya

From the book once again:

“The correspondences are too striking to be mere coincidence. The World Tree, like the Dragon, is part of a once worldwide system of communication based upon symbolism rather than phonetics. If your doorway of understanding lies through phonetics, the names are different; they sound different. If your doorway of understanding is symbolic, they the images look the same. It’s that easy.

“Are you looking or listening?”

When the Dragon Wore the Crown, p. 80

If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck and quacks like a duck, chances are it’s a duck.

 

Blessings to All-

Ho.



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