How The World Was Made

In Mooney Myths, Mooney quotes the myth of the cosmos and "How the World was Made." This begins the Cherokee belief that the earth was flat, resting on water held up by four pillars connecting to a sky vault. The famous drinking cup of Oklahoma, shows this vault engraved about the Falcon Dancer's head. The myth goes as follows:

"The Earth is a great island floating in a sea of water and suspended at each of the four cardinal points by a cord hanging down from the sky vault, which is of solid rock. When the world grows old and worn, the people will die, and the cords will break and let the earth sink down into the ocean when all will be water again. The Indians are afraid of this.

When all was water, the animals were above in Galvlati, beyond the arch. It was very much crowded, and they wanted more room. They wondered what was below in the water, and at last, Doyunisi, Beaver's grandchild, the little Water-Beetle, offered to go see what it could learn. It darted in every direction over the surface of the water and could find no place to rest. He then dove to the bottom and came up with some soft mud, which began to grow and spread on every side until it became the island which we call the Earth. It was afterward fastened to the sky with four cords, but no one remembers who did this.

At first, the Earth was flat, very soft, and wet. The animals were anxious to get down, and sent out different birds to see if it was dry. They found no place to alight and came back to Galvlati. At last, it seemed to be time. They sent out the Buzzard and told him to go and make ready for them. This was the Great Buzzard, father of all the buzzards we see today. He flew all over the Earth, low down near the ground. It was still soft. When he reached the Cherokee country, he was very tired - his wings began to flap and strike the ground. Wherever they struck the Earth, there was a valley. Where they turned up again, there was a mountain. When the animals above saw this, they were afraid the whole world would be mountains, so they called him back. The Cherokee country remains full of mountains to this day.

When the Earth was dry and the animals came down, it was still dark. They got the sun and set it in a track to go every day across the island from East to West, just overhead. It was too hot this way, and Tsiskagili, the Red Crawfish, has his shell scorched a bright red so that his meat was spoiled. The Cherokee do not eat the crawfish.

The conjurers put the sun another hand-breadth higher in the air, but it was still too hot. They raised it another time, and another, until it was seven handbreadths high and just under the sky arch. It was right, and they left it so. Every day, the sun goes along under this arch and returns at night on the upper side to the starting place.

There is another world under this, and it is like ours in everything - animals, plants, and people, save that the seasons are different. The streams that come down from the mountains are trails by which we reach this underworld. The springs at their heads are the doorways by which we enter it, but to do this, one must fast and go to water, as well as have one of the underground people for a guide. We know that the seasons in the underworld are different than ours, because the water in the springs is always warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer than the outer air.

When the animals and plants were first made - we do not know by whom - they were told to watch and keep awake for seven nights, just as our young men now fast and keep awake when they pray to do their medicine. They tried to do this, and nearly all were awake through the first night. The next night, several dropped off to sleep. The third night, others were asleep, and then others, until on the seventh night, of all the animals, only the Owl, the Panther, and one or two more were still awake. To these were given the power to see and go about in the dark and also to make prey of the birds and animals which must sleep at night. Of the trees, only the cedar, pine, spruce, holly and laurel were awake to the end, and to them it was given to be always green and to be greatest for medicine. To the others it was said, "Because you have not endured to the end, you shall you lose your 'hair' every winter."

Men came after the animal and plants. At first, there was only a brother and sister until he struck her with a fish and told her to multiply. And so it was. In seven days, a child was born to her, and thereafter, every seven days another. They increased very fast until there was danger that the world could not keep them. It was then made that a woman should have only one child in a year, and it has been so ever since."

To further explain, there are three worlds - the Upper World, the Lower World, and This World. In the Upper World, the animals are larger than life. This land they call Galvlati. The word translates to mean, "The Upper Land Where the Animals Live." Some books have recently been published by Cherokee people that say the Upper World is the same as Heaven. This is a misconception and denotes the Judeo-Christianity influence on the Cherokee culture. The Lower Word is opposite of the other two and represents disorder and change, whereas the Upper World represents "purity larger than life."