Mythology, the Thunderer and Native America

horseheader1.jpeGood Morning!

Soon, within a few weeks, my latest effort, THE LAST WARRIOR, will be hitting the stands (early March 2008).   Because this book is the last in a series that is set not only within historical times, but within the framework of Native American Mythology, I thought it might be fitting to talk about some of the legends of Native America.

lastwarrior.jpgThe Thunder Being (or sometimes referred to as the Thunder Bird or Thunder God or Thunderer) is one of the main characters in this latest series of my books.   His anger has been stirred by acts of violence against himself and his children by a clan that is part of the Blackfoot Indians — The Lost Clan as they are called in these stories.  Interestingly, the Thunder Being plays a dominant role in most Native American tribes — perhaps because when one is living so closely to nature, the Thunderer, who can produce so much damage, would be a subject of much legend.  In this series of books, the Lost Clan has been  relegated into the “mist” by the Creator, who intervened on the people’s behalf when the Thunderer was bent on destroying every single member of the clan.  Imprisoned within that mist, each band within the clan is given a chance within every new generation to choose a boy to go out into the real world, who is charged with the task of undoing the curse, thus freeing his people from what would be an everlasting punishment (they are neither real, nor dead).  But, not only must the boy be brave and intelligent (there are puzzles to solve within every book), he must also show kindness to the enemy.

july06-yukon-photo-3.jpgLet’s have a look at the Thunderer and some of the different lord about this being.  In Blackfeet lore, the Thunderer often steals women.  He also will often take the image of a very large bird — his wings creating the thunder and his eyes shooting out the lightning.  In Lakota lore, if one dreams about the Thunder god, he becomes a backwards person.   He must do everything backwards.  He washes in sand, become dirty in water, walks backwards, says exactly what he doesn’t mean, etc., etc.  The dream is so powerful that it is thought that if one fails to do these things, he courts certain death.  In THE LAST WARRIOR, because the last warrior has been adopted by the Lakota,  he believes this last to be true.  And so when our heroine dreams of the Thunderer, our hero is at once worried and seeks to protect her all the more.

RedwoodsThere is also a legend of the Thunder Being in the Iroquois Nation.  In this legend, a young woman becomes the bride of the Thunderer and through him saves her village from a huge snake that burrows under her village, thus endangering the lives of everyone in her village.  There is still another legend about the Thunder which you can watch on the Movie called Dream Makers — well, I think that’s the name of the movie (if I am wrong about that name, please do correct me).   In this legend, which is also an Eastern Indian tribe, a young woman marries the Thunderer and goes to live with him in the above world, only to be returned to her own world when she becomes pregnant with his child.

Blue_YonderWhat is very, very interesting to me is how many and how vast are the lores of Native America.  Though we often hear or even study the ancient lore of the Greeks, seldom do we read much our own lore — the mythology that belongs intimately with this land we call America — which by the way, to the Native Americans on the East Coast, it is what we know as America is Turtle Island.   Fascinatingly, there is a story for almost every creature on this continent, from the crow to the sparrow to the coyote (the trickster), the wolf and bear.  There are legends about the stars, the Big Dipper hosts legends about the Great Bear (Iroquois) and the Seven Brothers and their sister (Cheyenne and Blackfeet).  There are still other stories about the Morning Star and the Evening Star and marriages between the Gods and mortals.

july06-yukon-photo-4.jpgSo what I thought I’d ask, and what I thought I’d open up the discussion to, is not only what you think about myths (do you think they are stories about a past time or do you think, like many scientists of our day, that they are the works of imagination), but I’d love to know what is your favorite myth?  Do you like best the stories about the stars,  or the heavens, or the creation of human kind, or of love, or adventure?  So come on in, and let’s see if we can tell some of these wonderful stories from our not-too-distant past.




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KAREN KAY aka GEN BAILEY is the multi-published author of American Indian Historical Romances. She has written for such prestigious publishers as AVON/HarperCollins, Berkley/Penguin/Putnam and Samhain Publishing. KAREN KAY’S great grandmother was Choctaw Indian and Kay is honored to be able to write about the American Indian Culture.
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38 thoughts on “Mythology, the Thunderer and Native America”

  1. I work on an Indian reservation and one time, during a meeting about something else, one of the attenders said something about a pile of audio tapes that one of their elders had made. He is long dead but the tapes survived but they’re stored somewhere, it was very vague and someone was sure they were one place and another wasn’t so sure.
    So, I listened to them talk about these tapes and this old man who gave this long oral history, it sounded like hours of him talking. Many years ago, and he told stories his parents and grandparents had told him, besides his own recollections.
    Well, I’m a fast accurate typist and I love stories and I was just fascinated to think those tapes existed. I offered to listen to them and type them into a computer and we’d make a book–I know Publish On Demand companies, I could do this for very little money. A tribal history built from this man’s stories. Sell it in the tribal building and at the casino, other places, too.

    I just couldn’t get them to hand over the tapes.

    I really pushed it pretty darned hard, too hard probably, but I couldn’t get anyone excited enough to go find those tape and bring them to me, or even tell me where to hunt. I mean, this isn’t MY home, MY history, I had no right to go charging around and find them myself, though I offered.

    I still think about those tapes.
    I wonder where they are?
    Maybe my imagination is blowing them up into something they’re not (almost certainly I am, at least to some extent) but I’d have loved to do that.

    I know, this isn’t a legend.
    I’ll think about that some more. Louis L’Amour told some Indian legends, those come to mind.

  2. Hi Kay! What a wonderful subject to discuss. Legends were heavy in the white man’s earlier culture. We invented a God for everything and a legend to go with it. I think creating legends came from trying to explain things in nature that they knew nothing about. Sailors invented Lorelei and other myths about sea beings. I’m just about positive they sprang from imagination and weren’t real at all. The more we learned scientifically the more the myths and legends faded.

    The Native Americans had/have a lot of legends to live by and it’s very interesting. I love hearing those stories and letting my imagination roam. Thank you for sharing!

  3. Hi my dear friend KAY!

    Sure some stories of the Thunder beings are formed from the imagination for entertainment but not all the stories are fiction.

    Within the Blackfeet religion THUNDER is the voice of GOD,even in the HOLY BIBLE.

    Also in the spring when THUNDER speaks all the holy people start planning the upcoming ceromonies for the new cycle of life. Plus the Holy People pray about who will be the new people to sit holy. When they pray this prayer it is said out loud and when the correct name is said THUNDER will speak. This is how the new holy people are chosen.

    Patricia Running Crane Devereaux

  4. I think there is a grain of truth in most legends and then the imagination takes over because it seems to be human nature to want answers and if we don’t have them, we’ll make some up. I think they’re all fascinating as long as they are taken for what they are. And I just have to say I love your cover 🙂

  5. My favorite myths can be found in Kalevala, of course (a book which inspired both Longfellow and Tolkien). But you know, we Finns have this story about how a fox made a bear lose his pretty, long tale and I know that at least the Inuit and the Cherokee have a VERY similar story.

    “the Big Dipper hosts legends about the Great Bear (Iroquois)” What kind of legend is that? Just wondering if also this myth would be familiar for us Finns.

  6. Awesome post, Karen. Every culture has its myths, even our modern one. They’re an essential part of who we are.
    Interestingly, I used the Thunderbird myth in my story, THE GUARDIAN. The hero was Arapaho, the heroine white, but there is a part of the story where they actually reinact the legend.
    Your story premise is wonderful, and what a gorgeous cover! Congratulations on a beautiful book.

  7. Hi Petty Lady!

    Share what, by the way? The stories? If so, they are free to share with whomever you want. These stories are as old (in some cases) as humanity, itself. : )

  8. Hi Mary!

    Probably what you are running into is the fact that many Native Americans feel as if it is handing over their last vestige of who they are to hand over the tapes. There is an elder in the Lakota tribe who once said (and I can’t remember who that man was) — first they will want you land, then they will want your women, next they will want your religion and who you are.

    Some people are unwilling to share this last refuge of who and what they are.

    Personally I believe that the more communication, the better. I think that if things were understood a little better, we’d all stand a better chance of getting along with one another without war.

    But I respect the opinions and beliefs of others. Anyway, that’s my take on what might be happening. : )

  9. Hi Linda!

    I would tend to agree with you on some of the legends — I think, however, that some oral traditions are passed down word for word and are never allowed to vary. I guess that’s what I find fascinating — is that some of these stories — like the Native American story of Pocahantas — is passed down word for word without any deviation allowed.

    And it’s quite different from the Disney or any other version. Quite insightful, as well. If you or anyone else want to learn more about that, that oral history of Pocahantas is written in a book called THE TRUE STORY OF POCAHONTAS. : )

    Thanks so much for your take on this. : )

  10. Wow! Patricia! How insightful. Patricica, by the way is Blackfeet and grew up on the Blackfeet reservation. She is one of my very best friends — so much so that I consider her part of my family, not simply a friend.

    I love the story you just told!

  11. Hi Jeanne!

    Thanks so much for your thoughts on this. Yes, I think Patricia made a good point that some of the stories are made up for entertainment, but some are legends of truth. I loved what she said about the Thunder.

    And thanks so much for the compliment on the cover. It really is gorgeous, isn’t it?

  12. Hi Minna!

    The Great Sky Bear story of the Iroquois is a story of four hunters and their dog who hunted down the Great Sky Bear, following him up into the mountains so high, they when they looked down, they were no longer on earth. It is said that they killed the bear who was troubling and killing people in their village and in the fall, it is his blood that colors the maple leaves and his fat which makes the grass white.

    But after he is killed and the hunters have feasted, he rises again, and the chase is on once more, thus giving us our seasons.

    It’s a beautiful legend and one that I tell in the book that I’m writing right now. It has no title yet, the working title that I have for it, however, is BLACK EAGLE AND THE SWAN. : )

    I love that you have your legends, as well.

  13. Hi Elizabeth!

    You know I have never written about the Arapaho, and so I know little about them. I would love to read your book, however. Especially since you write about the Thunderer. THE GUARDIAN. I will look for it. : )

  14. Ok, it’s quite different from the story I was thinking about. And yet there is something familiar about it. But I find it interesting, that there is this one legend about a bear and a fox that you can find in Finland, North America -and for all I know in Russia among all those Finno-Ugric people- and that there are certain parts in the story that are similar in Finland and in North America.

  15. What a beautiful post, Karen!!! Thanks so much for sharing. I love all mythology. I became an avid fan during Junior high when we studied Greek mythology…plus the whole Clash of the Titan’s influence 😉 I own a quite a few books on Native American lore and legends. I believe mythology is a combination of the past, imagination and teaching a comprehensible understanding of nature. Certainly the greeks took thier mythology very seriously, as do many cultures. I’m fascniated by the poetic schooling of life and nature through mythological stories 🙂

  16. Karen, What a wonderful post! for the myth, lore and legends there has to be something behind how their stories came about. I have always been intrigued myself. what is the name of the series The Last Warrior is in a know you said it was the last book in the series I need to get these. I think that’s where we’ll vacation this year a Indian Preservation camp I’ve always wanted to to that.

  17. I’ve been reading a book of myths and legends of the Nez Perce as research for the trilogy I have set among the Nez Perce coming out with The Wild Rose Press.

    There are so many facinating legends and such wisdom in their stories.

    Mary, I understand your frustration in wanting to preserve the information. I was lucky to have corresponded with a Nez perce woman while writing my books. And every once in a while when I would ask for more information on something she would say she couldn’t tell me. It was information the tribe did not wish to reveal.

  18. I didn’t get the impression they were holding back the tapes so much from a desire to keep their tribal lore to themselves, as not wanting to do the work of finding them.

    But I may have misinterpreted it.

    We have a legend around here called Deer Woman. That’s really about all I know of it, except that every once in a while someone claims to have seen Deer Woman, a woman with the head of a deer who lives in wild places. I think seeing her is an omen of bad things to come, but I’m stretching a bit with that.

    The Omaha Indian Nation Reservation where I work, is in a really rugged, beautiful place along the Missouri River in northern Nebraska. Not by Omaha, Nebraska. Far north of there.

  19. Hi Stacey!

    I love mythology, as well. And I think that perhaps Patricia hit the nail on the head by saying that some of the stories are told as entertainment, but some are true.

    But like you, I love mythology, Greek, Native American or otherwise. : )

  20. Hi Paty!

    I bet the stories that you know are wonderful. Although I’ve never written about the Nez Perce, they are a tribe that I highly admire. You could be right about the other, as well.

  21. Hi again, Mary!

    A couple of things: I didn’t know that you worked on a reservation. And I also loved your description of the reservation.

    Mostly, I think they didn’t want to share the information and their seeming “apathy” was done not to offend you. : )

  22. Hi Lori!

    Like you, I think that there is something special behind each of the stories. Whether it’s legend that is committed to mind to be told without a single word being lost is one thing — or whether it’s told to simply entertain. I love the mythology.

    The name of the series of books that THE LAST WARRIOR is part of is The Lost Clan series. Except for RED HAWK’S WOMAN and the new one coming out soon, they are mostly out of print. So Amazon might be a good place to pick one up – or Barnes & Noble, also. : )

    Now, on my contest, I’m offering one of them as a prize. : )

  23. Hi Karen,
    Thanks for letting me know you’d be here today.

    As I’ve told you I love all your books and was hooked after reading the first one. I love the stories and mythology as well.

    I was lucky enough to find some of your books through Barnes & Noble as well as Amazon. Can’t wait to read your new one coming out in March.


  24. Yo Kay, great post, fascinating! I realize I need to learn more about Native American lore and myth…I tend to research historical facts. As a child and as an English teacher later on, I fell in love with Greek mythology. I picked up a book on Hawaiian mythology on a recent trip there, and it’s very interesting.

  25. Hi, Karen,
    I’ve always found myths so interesting to read, and it’s fascinating how each people has stories about certain themes, like creation. In my elementary school library, they had books of different people’s stories (probably completely un-PC these days), like Stories of the Hawaiians or Myths of the Indians (I no longer remember exact titles, alas), and I LOVED borrowing and reading those books. I haven’t read too much along those lines recently though, but thanks for reminding me what I’ve been missing 🙂

  26. Me too, Tanya – I love Greek mythology.

    Kay – I’m not very well versed in Native American lore, but I did write a half-breed story with a legend the editors decided to edit out!

  27. Karen,

    Once again, thanks for a really informative blog. I have never really learned much at all about Native American Indian mythology so I appreciate the lesson. Mythology is close to my heart and I have always loved our well known Greco-Roman mythology. I learned it in school and in turn taught it to my children. I do think mythology came about as a way to explain the weird things that happen on this Earth and in our lives.

    One of my favorite mythological stories is that of Prometheus. You remember, he made Zeus angry when he stole fire from him and gave it to mankind. Zeus then chained him to a rock and every day a vulture came to eat his liver. Every night it healed but the next day the vulture returned to open the wound. I find myself using the story of Prometheus as a metaphor for the reopening of wounds, both physical and mental.
    It’s so fascinating to see how the treatment of women, the subjugation of women and misogyny had its roots in mythology in all cultures. There was this love/hate relationship with women and the gods. Women were never treated well and we’re only just now getting over it.

    I always enjoy your blogs. Keep me updated!

    Barbara Bergin
    Author of “Endings”

  28. Hi Barbara!

    You said that you learned something from my post. Goodness! Ditto! I had forgotten that story of Prometheus. Now, you’re in the medical profession, aren’t you? As well as a writer?

    It’s a good myth to know. Also, loved what you had to say about women. You are going to love, absolutely love Iroquois mythology — because the women in Iroquois tribes were very strong and very wise and were so very much respected. It’s pretty much holds true, also, throughout Native America — just so you know. There were a few tribes that traced their heritage through their father’s side, but not many. : )

  29. I haven’t been in the reading world long enough to collect books on all the subjects i’d like (however i’m getting there) but i know i’ll have to get my hands on this series. I went on your websight and was looking around glad i got in on the post i read alot of informative things on it, that’s got me more intrigued!!

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