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Rescuing the Daughter of the Sun from the Underworld

Cherokee Legend


Mother Sun lived on the other side of the sky vault, but her daughter lived in the middle of the sky, directly above the Earth. Every day as the sun was climbing along the sky arch to the west, she used to stop at her daughter's house for dinner.

Mother Sun came to hate the people of this Earth, because they never looked straight at her without squinting. She said to her brother, the Moon, “My grandchildren are ugly to me, they screw up their faces whenever they see me.

But the Moon said, “I like my younger brothers and sisters, I think they are happy, attractive people!” This was because they always smiled pleasantly at his mild glow in the night sky.

Lethal sibling rivalry set in. Sun was jealous of Moon's popularity and decided to kill the people. Every day when she got near her daughter's house, she sent down such a terrible heat that fever broke out and people died by the hundreds. When everyone had lost some friend or relative, and it seemed as if no one would be spared, the humans went for help to the Anidawehi, the powerful ones.


These men, who were friendly spirits, said that the only way the people could save themselves was to kill Mother Sun.

The Anidawehi made ceremony to change two of the humans into snakes, the Spreading Adder (hog-nosed snake) and Copperhead, who could hide near the daughter's door and bite the wicked old Sun. The Snakes went up to the sky and lay in wait until Sun arrived for midday dinner. But when Spreading Adder was about to spring, her bright light blinded him and he could only spit out yellow slime, as he does to this day when he tries to bite. The Sun called him vile names, and went into the house, and Copperhead was so discouraged that he crawled off without trying to do anything.

The people still dying from the terrible heat, went a second time to the Anidawehi for help. Again the Anidawehi made ceremony and changed one man into the great Uktena, the horned and feathered monster, and another into a Rattlesnake.

As before, the serpents had instructions to kill the wicked Sun when she stopped at her daughter's house. Uktena was large and fierce, with horns on his head, and everyone thought he would be sure to succeed. But the Rattlesnake was so eager that he raced ahead and coiled up just outside the house. When the Sun's daughter opened the door to look for her mother, he struck and she fell dead in the doorway.

Forgetting to wait for Mother Sun, he went back to the people, and Uktena was so angry at the Rattlesnake's stupidity that he went back too.

Since then we show respect to the Rattlesnake and don't kill him, because he wishes people well and never tries to bite if we don't disturb him. He tried to help humanity, but sometimes gets the targets confused. But Uktena grew angrier and more dangerous all the time. He became so venomous that today if he even looks at a man, the man's whole family will die.

When the Sun found her daughter dead, she shut herself up in the house and grieved. Now the people were no longer dying from the heat, but they lived in darkness. Once more they sought help from the Anidawehi, who said that in order to coax the Sun out, they must bring her daughter back from Tsusginayi. This is the ghost country, the Underworld which lies beyond Usvhiyi, the Darkening Land in the West.

The people chose seven men to make the journey, including Rattlesnake, who was now in his human form again. The Anidawehi told
the seven to take a ganesvi, a large wooden box, and told each man to carry sourwood rod a handbreadth long. When they got to Tsuginayi, the Anidawehi explained, they would find all the ghosts at a dance. They should stand outside the circle, and when the Sun's daughter danced past them, they must strike her with the rods and she would fall to the ground. Then they could put her in the box and bring her back to her mother.

But they must not open that box, not even a crack, until they arrived home. The seven men took the rods and the box and traveled west for seven days until they came to the Darkening Land. There they found a great crowd of ghosts having a dance, just as if they were alive. The Sun's daughter was in the outside circle. As she danced past them, one of the seven men struck her with his rod, and then another, and another, until at the seventh round she fell out of the ring.

The men put her into the box and closed the lid, and the other ghosts never seemed to notice what had happened. Two of the seven took up the box between them on poles and started home toward the East.

In a while the girl came to life again and begged to be let out, but the party went on without answering. Soon she called again and said she was hungry, but they did not reply. When at last the group was very near home, the Daughter of the Sun cried that she was toward the east. In a while the girl came to life again and begged to be let out, but the rescue party went on without answering.
Soon she called again and said she was hungry, but they did not reply. When at last the group was very near home, the Daughter of the Sun cried that she was smothering and begged them to raise the lid just a little. Now they were afraid that she was really dying,
so they barely cracked the lid to give her air. There was a fluttering sound, and something flew past them into the bushes. Then they heard a Dotsuwa (Redbird) cry.

Shutting the lid, they went on again. But when they arrived at the settlements and opened the box, it was empty. So we know that the Redbird is the Daughter of the Sun transformed. The Sun had been hopeful when the party had started off for the Darkening Land, but when they came back without her Daughter, she wept until her tears caused a great flood. Fearing that the world would be
drowned, the people held another council and decided to send their handsomest young men and women to amuse the Sun and stop her crying. This group danced before her and sang their best songs, but for a long time she kept her face bowed and paid no attention.

At last when the drummer (who had been the Rattlesnake and one of the rescuers) suddenly changed the song, Sun looked up and was so pleased at the sight of the beautiful young people that she forgot her grief and smiled. The tears stopped, and she agreed to never again destroy the people in her rage. The new drum created for the event, the water drum, continues to be used for ceremony.
Some say that the empty box, the Ganesvi, was kept as a remembrance of this quest, and was later used as an ark to house the most sacred medicines of the Cherokee people, including a drum, a pipe, and ashes from the original Sacred Fire.

“Daughter of the Sun” is Venus. For part of her cycle, she crosses in front of the sun, showing us her back, and she becomes invisible. For part of the cycle, she disappears behind the sun. She burrows into the lower world as the Rabbit, and returns as the Redbird. This is why the Redbird or Cardinal reminds us in winter that spring will return.

Because she was almost home when she escaped, Sun's Daughter spends part of the Venus Year approaching and following her mother, part of it leaving her mother to approach the Ghost Land, and for part of it she is completely out of sight.

If the party had kept the box closed, as the Anidawehi told them to, they could have brought her home safely, and today we would still be able to recover our friends from the Ghost Land. Because the seven opened the box, however, we can never bring back people who die. We must wait instead for the day when we join them.

Today, when we go out before dawn to prepare to welcome Mother Sun, we say the morning prayers and sing the songs from the time she peeks over the horizon until she clears the horizon. We are cheerful, and stare directly into her face without squinting. A few minutes after the disc clears the horizon, when it is too painful to stay in her face without squinting, we conclude. She sees only the smiles and love of her children.

The ark is sometimes described as wooden, sometimes as ceramic, and sometimes as a large basket. Some say that each village had its own ceremonial ark, in the same manner that each Ethiopian Orthodox church has its own replica of the Ark of the Covenant, yet believing that the original Ark made by Moses is housed in Aksum.

The early trader and chronicler of the Southeastern nations, William Penn Adair, claimed to have seen the ark (or AN ark) in 1756, but was not shown the contents.


During the French and Indian War, the French brought a contingent of allied tribes with them into Cherokee country, expecting the Cherokees to join them against the English. Bringing traditional enemies into Cherokee country led to hostilities, and according to oral tradition, a war party of Delawares captured it sometime between 1760 and 1780. Over the next century, the Cherokee people were reduced by about 30%, but the Delaware were reduced by 90%. The largest surviving remnant in the US were taken into the Cherokee Nation in 1867.

Submitted by Brian Wilkes

Deer and Rabbit Race for the Crown of Lightning
In the long-ago time, the Animals were quite different than they are today. Turtle was much bigger, and fierce, with sharp teeth and a thick one-piece shell. Rabbit was much bigger, too, about the size of a human. Deer had long sharp teeth but no antlers.

He was a fast runner and Rabbit was a great jumper, and the animals were all curious to know which could go farther in the same time. They talked about it a lot, and at last agreed to a match between the two, and had made a crown shaped like lightning for a prize to the winner.

They were to start together from one side of a thicket, go through it, then turn and come back. The one who came out first was to get the crown.

On the day off the race all the animals were there, with the lightning crown set on the ground at the edge of the thicket to mark the starting point. While everybody was admiring the crown the Rabbit said: "I don't know this part of the country; I want to take a look through the bushes where I am to run." They thought that all right, so Rabbit went into the thicket, but he was gone so long that at last the animals suspected he must be up to one of his tricks. They sent a messenger to look for him, and away in the middle of the thicket he found Rabbit gnawing down the bushes and pulling them away until he had a road cleared nearly to the other side.

The messenger turned around quietly and came back and told the other animals. When Rabbit came out at last they accused him of cheating, but he denied it until they went into the thicket and found the cleared road. They agreed that such a trickster had no right to enter the race at all, so they gave the crown to Deer, who was admitted to be the best runner, and he has worn them ever since. His antlers remind us of the lightning and of the rains they bring. Rabbit was told that since he was so fond of cutting down bushes he would do that thereafter, and so he does to this day.

Rabbit felt belittled because Deer had won the crown of lightning, and resolved to get even. One day, soon after the race, he stretched a large grapevine across the trail, and gnawed it nearly in two in the middle. Then he went back a piece, took a good run, and jumped up at the vine. He kept on running and jumping up at the vine until Deer came along and asked him what he was doing?
"Don't you see?" said Rabbit. "I'm so strong that I can bite through that grapevine at one jump."

Deer could hardly believe this, and wanted to see it done. So Rabbit ran back, made a tremendous spring, and bit through the vine where he had gnawed it before. Deer, when he saw that, said, "Well, I can do it if you can." So Rabbit stretched a larger grapevine across the trail, but without gnawing it in the middle. Deer ran back as he had seen the Rabbit do, made a spring, and struck the grapevine right in the center, but it only flew back and threw him over on his head. He tried again and again, until he was all bruised and bleeding.

"Let me see your teeth," said Rabbit finally. So Deer showed him his teeth, which were long like a wolf's teeth, but not very sharp.

"No wonder you can't do it," said Rabbit; "your teeth are too blunt! Let me sharpen them for you like mine. My teeth are so sharp that I can cut through a stick just like a knife." And he showed him a black locust twig, of which rabbits gnaw the young shoots, which he had shaved off as well as a knife could do it, in regular rabbit fashion. Deer thought that was a great idea, so Rabbit got a hard stone with rough edges and filed and filed away at Deer's teeth until they were worn down almost to the gums.

"That hurts!" said Deer; but Rabbit said it always hurt a little when they began to get sharp; so Deer kept quiet.

"Now try it," at last said Rabbit. So Deer tried again, but this time he could not bite at all. "Enjoy the antlers, sucker!" said the Rabbit, as he jumped away through the bushes. Ever since then Deer's teeth are so blunt that he cannot chew anything but grass and leaves.
Deer was very angry at Rabbit for filing down his teeth, and determined to get revenge, but he kept still and pretended to be friendly until Rabbit was off guard. Then one day, as they were going along together talking, he challenged the Rabbit to jump against him.


Now, since everyone knows that Rabbit is a great jumper, he agreed.

There was a small stream beside the path, as there generally is in that country, and Deer said "Let's see if you can jump across this branch. We'll go back a way, and when I say GO! we both run and jump."

"All right," said Rabbit. So they went back to get a good start, and when Deer gave the word GO!, they ran for the stream, and Rabbit made one jump and landed on the other side. But Deer had stopped on the bank, and when Rabbit looked back, Deer had conjured the stream so that it was a large river. Rabbit was never able to get back again and is still on the other side. The 'rabbit' that we know is only a little creature that came along afterwards.

(on the Calendar, the sequence of day signs is Deer, Rabbit, River)


Submitted by Brian Wilkes



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