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The five worlds [archive]

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The five worlds (Navajo)

The present world is the fifth world. In the first world, there were three beings living in the darkness: First Man, First Woman, and Coyote. The first world was too small and dark for them to live happily, so they climbed into the second world, which contained the sun and the moon. In the east, there was blackness; in the west, yellowness; in the south, blueness; and in the north, whiteness. Sometimes the blackness would roll from the east and overshadow the entire world. When the three beings arrived in the second world, the sun tried to make love to First Woman. When she refused, there was discord. Coyote, who understood such things, called the other people of the four directions together.

He advised them to climb up into the third world, a wide and peaceful land. Upon their ascent, they found that Coyote had been right; the new land was beautiful. They were greeted there by the mountain people, who warned that they would all live in peace as long as they did not disturb the water serpent, Tieholtsodi.

Telling Coyote not to do something was a guarantee that he would do it. His natural curiosity got the better of him and he wandered down to the sea. There he saw the water serpent Tieholtsodi's children playing and found them so attractive that he ran off with them under his arms. Tieholtsodi became very angry and searched the world for his children, but to no avail. Then he decided to flood the world and flush out the thief.

As the waters rose, the people discussed how to escape the flood and, through magic, they piled the four mountains of the four direc-fions up, one atop the other. Still, the waters continued to rise, covering the first mountain, then the second, then the third, until the people were huddled atop the fourth mountain wondering what to do. So they planted a giant reed that grew high into the sky. Just as the waters were lapping around them, they climbed up into the fourth world. The last to leave was the turkey; to this day his tail feathers are white where the floodwater washed out the colors.

The fourth world was even larger than the third. However, it was dim and misty. There was a great river flowing through the fourth world. Human beings lived north of the river and human souls in animal form lived to its south.

About this time, humans grew quarrelsome. The men constantly argued with the women about stupid things. Each sex claimed to be the more important. The women argued that, were it not for them, everyone would die after all, they planted the corn and harvested it, they made clothing and bore children. The men disagreed, saying they were the more important: Men did the rituals that guaranteed a good corn crop, plowed, hunted, built homes, and fathered children. In addition, they protected the villages from attack. The women countered that they made baskets, cooked the food, and tended the fires. The arguments could not be resolved, so the men decided to leave for four years.

But neither the men nor the women were happy during those four years. Men and women were meant to be together, despite their dif-ferences, and with separation came appreciation. Because the women did not know the proper corn rituals nor how to plow, the corn did not grow properly and there was not enough food to go around. With the failure of the crops, there was little that the women could do, as they did not know how to hunt.

The men weren't any better off than the women. Four years on their own made them irritable. Not knowing how to process cotton, the men found their clothing deteriorating into rags, and so their skin burned in the hot sun and froze in the cold weather. Although they knew the rituals and how to plow, they had no corn, as they didn't know the right procedures for cultivation and harvest. Although they knew how to hunt, they grew sick and their teeth fell out from chewing raw meat, as they knew nothing of cooking. Worst of all, they missed the delight of having little children around.

Thus the two sexes realized that each was incomplete without the other; neither was the more important. The women decided to over-look what they considered the men's "faults," and the men "forgave" the women for theirs. When they finally did get back together, it was a period of peace and happiness-and many, many children were born in that first year together. Their peace was short-lived, however, for Coyote still had the children of Tieholtsodi with him. Tieholtsodi's flooding of the third world had been so complete that the waters rose up into the fourth, making the ground soft. A new flood threatened the people and they again stacked the four mountains on top of each other, planted the giant reed, and escaped to the fifth world, where we now live.

The beaver was the first to enter the fifth world and he returned very discouraging news: From what he could see, all that was above them in the fifth world was the bottom of a vast lake. So the people then sent the locust, who went up to the surface of the lake.

On the surface there were two swans, the guardians of the fifth world. They told the locust that no one could enter the fifth world without passing a test. The newcomers had to take an arrow, swallow it, pass it out by the anus,. then put the arrow back up the anus and spit it out by the mouth. The locust knew very well that most of the animals would never survive such a test. But, being a locust, he tricked the swans; he knew that he could pass an arrow through his own thorax and survive. Moreover, it was apparent that the swans had never seen a locust before.

So the locust amazed the swans by passing an arrow through his own thorax and he challenged the swans to do likewise, which, of course, would have been fatal to them. The swans knew that it would he suicide to pass an arrow through their chests, and they were im-pressed by the locust's courage and "magic." So they gave their permission for the people of the fourth world to enter the fifth.

Having endured two floods because of Coyote's theft of Tieholtsodi's children, the people wanted to avoid the same problem in the fifth world. So they ordered Coyote to give the children back. He did so and Tieholtsodi was pacified.

Upon their entry into the fifth world, the people found themselves on an island in the middle of this vast lake. They prayed to the Dark-ness Spirit, who cut a ditch to drain away much of the water; this ditch is today the Colorado River. Then they prayed to the four winds to blow day and night to dry up the soil on their island until more land was available. The sun and the moon were thrown up into the sky, and for four days the people watched the sun ascend up to its proper place in the sky.

However, when the sun reached that spot, it stopped, ceasing to move at all. Everything was in danger of being burned up. A great chief's wife came forward and told the people that she had recently. dreamt that the sun would not move unless a human being died. She offered herself. The people wondered sadly where her spirit had gone until, one day, a man looked down a hole and saw the woman inside it, contentedly combing her hair. Since that time, one human being has had to die each day in order to make the sun move.

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