First, it should be mentioned that the Iroquois, despite popular belief, was not a tribe in itself but a league of five Native American tribes: the Cayuga, Mohawk, Seneca, Oneida, Onondaga, and Tuscarora (Converse, 2006). I believe that it is this amalgamation of heritage and culture that lends to such a diverse and rich mythology. The creation story of the Iroquois is not a single story but a selection of variations upon a common theme. This story has been handed down in oral fashion well before colonial times. As such, the variations have grown with the inflections and understanding of each storyteller. Some of the common themes in this story describe a heavenly island in space upon which there is no suffering, no war, and no death, only eternal peace and abundance. This island hovers above an earth covered in water. On the floating island there is a tree, the tree of light or the council tree. This tree was “perpetually laden with fruit and blossoms” (Converse, 2006, p. 32). One day, the ruler, the Great Creative Being, decided to create a new place for the people to grow. In knowing that the world of the cloud sea (earth) existed under the council tree, he commanded the tree uprooted so that the cloud sea might be nurtured to grow. After uprooting the tree, the Great Creative Being sent a woman who was with child down to the cloud sea. As she descended, the animals of the cloud sea created a place for her to rest upon the back of Great Turtle.
At this point, the story breaks into many of the known variations (Converse, 2006; Iroquois Indian Museum, 2010; Williams College, 1997). In some tellings, the woman gives birth to twins, one good and one evil. In at least one account, the woman gives birth to a girl who in turn gives birth to the hero and villain of the story. In all versions, ultimately, the twins are born and the good twin creates beauty and abundance while the bad twin attempts to destroy these things that his brother has created. The brothers eventually take up battle against each other, with the good twin victorious, and life goes on. Each facet of life and nature being a personified allusion of spirit-beings. The story varies so much at this point that to continue in detail would bring this discussion outside of its purview.
The Iroquois creation story, as so many others, tells of a beginning of life on earth, but it fails to tell the story from the initial creation. In this story, there is already a civilization of beings in existence that bears our ancestors. What this story does accomplish, however, is tying a primeval importance to the creatures and land that they rely upon. This story teaches to nourish the land and respect the animals, probably instilling a sense of responsibility because they understand, if not fully, that their existence and quality of life is dependent on the abundance of the land. Parallels can be drawn to some of the interpretations of the Sumerian creation story (Langdon, 1915) and the variations leading to the classical religions’ (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) telling of creation (Al-Baqarah 30, Qu’ran; Al-Hijr 28, Qu’ran; Al-A’raf 54, Qu’ran; Ar-Rahman 14, Qu’ran; Al-Sajdah 4, Qu’ran; Genesis 1-11, King James Bible; Genesis 1-11, Torah).
Converse, H. M. (2006). In A. C. Parker (Ed.), Myths and legends of the New York State Iroquois. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?id=C0A8zSkQJrEC
Iroquois Indian Museum. (2010). Creation story I. Retrieved from http://www.iroquoismuseum.org/creation.htm
Langdon, S. (1915). Sumerian epic of paradise, the flood and the fall of man. The University Museum Publications of the Babylonian Section, 10(1-4). Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Museum. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?id=5w4TAAAAYAAJ
Williams College, Computer Science Department. (1997). Iroquois creation myth. Retrieved from http://www.cs.williams.edu/~lindsey/myths/myths_12.html