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Hi I’m Mike Rugnetta, this is Crashcourse Mythology, and today we’re wrapping up creation
myths.
Over the past four episodes we’ve seen the universe created from nothing, via the actions
of earth mothers, sky fathers, and of course, vomiting supreme beings.
We’ve seen creation used to explore the relationships between parents and children
and between men and women.
And snakes.
And on that note, today, we’re going to examine the earthly interconnection between
humans and animals.
High five, Thoth!
What?
Yes, I know humans are animals.
You know what I mean.
INTRO Before we get into the creation myths, let’s
start with a little scientific mythology about man’s best friend.
Of course, I mean dogs.
Sorry Thoth.
Dogs were, if not the first, then among the first domesticated animals, and they play
an important role in mythology.
Romulus?
Remus?
I’m looking in your direction.
One of the stories that we tell about the domestication of dogs is that it started when
early hunter gatherers chose to tame and then breed some of the less aggressive wolves in
order to increase the hunters’ capacity to capture game.
Eventually, these cross and interbred wolves became dogs.
Who’s a good boy?
Who’s a good boy?
Thats Right!
Any canine that didn’t bite off your hand is a good boy!
It’s a nice story and it seems to make sense, but there are problems with it.
In an article in National Geographic, Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods argue that some scientists
are flipping this narrative on its head and saying that it was wolves that sought out
humans, rather than the other way around.
It doesn’t make much sense for humans to try to capture wolves and get them to work
for us.
Early hunter gatherers were pretty good at hunting, which is why they might have been
to blame for the destruction of megafauna in the prehistoric world.
Also, why would humans want to share the spoils of the hunt with a wolf?
They’re hungry.
Like the wolf.
Hare and Woods explain that scientists think it is more likely that wolves approached humans,
probably by scavenging around their garbage pits.
These would have been the friendliest wolves; aggressive ones would have been killed by
anxious humans.
So, it was the friendly wolves that, over many generations, were bred into the loveable
vacuum hating rapscallions that we know and love.
Don’t ask me about cats, though.
I got nothing there.
Are cats even really domesticated?
I feel like they’re hiding something.
There’s some plot.
They’re up to something.
Let’s return, as we so often do, to the Judeo-Christian Biblical story of creation
from Genesis.
In Chapter One, after creating the heavens and the earth and the stars and all the animals:
God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion
over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over
all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female
he created them.”
(Gen 1 26-27) … And God said, “Behold I have given you every plant yielding seed
which is upon the face of all the earth and every tree with every seed in its fruit; you
shall have them for food.
And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps
on the earth, everything that has breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.”
And it was so.
(Gen 1 29-30).
Sounds like more gardening to me, surprise surprise.
In the second chapter of Genesis, God grants humans control over the other earthly creatures
in a slightly different way.
In this version, God creates man before the animals.
Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him
a helper fit for him.”
So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air,
and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called
every living creature, that was its name.”
(Gen 2 18-19) Isn’t that nice?
Giraffes and sharks and biting flies were made just to help us.
Both creation stories set up a clear hierarchy in the animal world with human beings at the
top given the power to do whatever they want with all animals below them.
Basically, they’re our interns.
The second version of the story affirms human control over animals in two ways.
First, by having man created prior to the animal kingdom, humans are granted literal
primacy.
Then, their power is increased over animals by the first man receiving the privilege of
naming them.
And, I mean, he did a pretty good job.
Especially with hippopotamus.
But not all myths about humans and animals employ this strict hierarchy.
In a number of creation stories from Native American tribes animals are partners in creation,
often acting as guides or even as the key participants in creating the earth.
The tribes of what is now the Southwestern United States have creation stories that follow
a model we haven’t yet seen, the emergence myth.
In these stories, humans or creatures that become humans are led from an original underground
world into a series of interim worlds until they emerge into the surface world that is
recognizably earth.
In a Hopi version of this story, various animals including the Spider Grandmother, and a chipmunk
help to find the entry hole or sipapuni, to the land beyond the sky.
Apparently, there is one of these entry ways in the Grand Canyon.
In a Navajo version of the emergence story, the people, who are also sort of insects,
fly through the sipapuni into the higher world, assisted by swallows.
I like these myths.
Humans working with nature!
Literally rising towards creation!
It’s just a nice breath of fresh air, almost literally, after all the vomiting and death
that we’ve had so far.
Another type of creation story featuring animal helpers is called the earth diver myth.
A good example comes from the Iroquois Indians of the Northeastern Woodlands of the United
States.
Let’s dive into Thoughtbubble.
A long time ago, humans lived up in the sky in what we now consider heaven.
The daughter of their great chief became very sick, and they were unable to cure her.
In the village was a great tree on which grew the corn that had fed all the people.
One of the chief’s friends had a dream in which he was told to tell the chief to lay
his daughter beside the tree and dig it up.
The chief did as the dream said.
While this was going on an angry young man came along.
The angry young man didn’t have the best bedside manner.
He pointed out the tree provided the fruit which fed the people, and gave the sick daughter
a push with his foot.
She fell through the hole that had been left when the tree had been dug up.
The young woman fell into this world, which at the time was all water.
On this water floated ducks, and geese and all the other water birds.
As there was no earth on this water at the time, there was no place for the falling woman
to land, so the birds joined their bodies together into a sort of duck island, where
the falling woman landed.
After some time, the birds grew tired and asked who would care for the woman.
The Great Turtle took the woman, and when he grew tired he asked who would take care
of her.
They decided to prepare land on which she would live-- the earth.
The Toad, after some convincing, dove to the bottom of the primal sea, and collected soil
which was placed on the broad carapace of the Great Turtle.
It increased in size until it provided the land to accommodate all the living creatures.
Thanks Thoughtbubble.
And nice work, water birds.
Also, Toad.
Thoth, meet Toad.
So there’s a lot more to the myth than this, but it captures the key elements of the earth
diver story.
Although it has some things in common with other creation myths we’ve seen, especially
the idea that the world began as water, the relationship between human beings and animals
it’s quite different.
For one thing, far from being dumb creatures waiting to be named and tamed by a man, these
animals can talk, think, deliberate and plan.
Animal empowerment!
They also have emotions similar to the ones we feel, especially getting tired and bored
of a tedious task.
Think about this the next time you watch a horse pull a cart, or you’re trying to entertain
your cat by waving that feathery thing in front him.
I’m telling you: they’re gettin’ fed up.
Even more important than being given real agency in this creation story, it’s the
animals who both save humans’ progenitors, and create our home.
Without the helpful turtle and the brave toad, there would be no land to live on, and also
no earth to grow food.
The creation of the world requires animals and thus it is crucially important to be grateful
to them.
These Native American myths are very intricate and when you read them – and you should
– it’s important to remember that they are very different from many of the other
creation stories because they are living stories, communicated by way of a constantly evolving
oral tradition, unlike more or less stable literary texts.
Still, one of the interpretive take-aways from these emergence and earth diver stories
is that Native Americans perceive a different relationship between animals and nature and
humans than people from other traditions.
According to the biblical tradition, human beings have a special relationship with God
who prefers them to all other creatures.
According to mythology professors Eva Thury and Margaret Devinney, “This privilege has
been interpreted by some as giving believers the right to dispose of nature as they please.”
On the other hand, according to these scholars, “Native Americans view this world … as
the place where their destinies will be fulfilled, not by domination but by maintaining a balance
achieved by living in harmony with themselves and other humans as well as with animals and
the exterior world.”
Now some of you might be saying, wait, this sounds like a stereotypical view of Native
Americans, like they have some mystical connection with nature and that we should look to them
for a way to understand how better to live in harmony with it.
And you would be right, that is a cultural stereotype, one that has often been uncritically
linked with an idea of Native Americans as primitive.
But, I will say, maybe in comparison to the other stories we’ve heard, with all the
vomiting, and wars, and eating of children, it’s kind of nice think of the universe
as a place of collaboration, and not one of acrimony.
Except that jerk who kicked that lady down the hole.
Thanks for watching.
See you next episode.
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Humans and Nature and Creation: Crash Course Mythology #6

787 Folder Collection
黃齡萱 published on July 8, 2017
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