legends


Shasta-Road

Whether you’re looking to find Bigfoot or find a cure for what ails ye, believe in flying saucers and the hollow earth theory, or just feel called to go spiritually journeying in a place where the “veil between this world/dimension and the next is thinner” there’s a destination in California that will fit the bill: a currently inactive volcano called Mt. Shasta. That it’s in California may not surprise some—Cali is the state of oddball seekers, after all—but the fact that the legends stretch back to the earliest settlers and further back into Indian lore may surprise some.

The New Agey stuff, of course, has been grafted onto the place wholesale, but Shasta has always been a place of legend. The mountain is sacred to many Indian tribes in the area: the Wintu, who believe they emerged from a sacred spring on the mountain; the Achumawi; the Atsugewi; the Modoc. The Shasta Indian tribe believe it to be the center of the universe and home to their creator god, Chareya, often called Old Man Above or Great Man in English. While he was creating the world, he made himself a gigantic tipi out of ice and snow. He lived there for thousands of years and the Indians knew he was in residence because they could see the smoke of his fire coming out of the tipi’s top. However, when white folks showed up in the area, Old Man Above decided it was time to go and the smoke wasn’t seen on the mountain after that.

Perhaps that’s why there are people who to this day believe Shasta is hollow inside, a interdimensional passageway, the place where the last of the Lemurians live in a crystal city called Telos, home of the ascended masters, a covert UFO base, a…well, you get the picture. UFO sightings are quite frequent in the area, even without the lenticular clouds that frequent the mountaintop. And it’s said to be a Bigfoot hotspot, as a recent Finding Bigfoot episode claimed. Many spiritual seekers there report “telepathic communication” with Bigfoot when they pop in and out of the fifth dimension…and saucer occupants, and Lemurians, and…again, you get the picture.

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I do not laugh at the belief systems of others. I may not take them on as my own, but I figure that as long as they’re harmless and make these people happy, why not? And the beliefs clinging to the mountain are mostly that—peaceful and transcendental. Well, if you discount that one Guy who started a cult in the 1930s. His wife and son wound up swindling people out of a lot of money and getting busted by the Feds. The Guy himself did not go to prison—he was dead when the swindling occurred—so his name remains “pure” and the cult lives on in a Visitor’s Center in the town of Shasta.

But hey, Mt. Shasta is not to blame for the darkness at the heart of some humans, and most activity there is pretty positive. One might even come to believe that Mt. Shasta could purify even the darkest of hearts.

At his first sight of Mt. Shasta in 1874, John Muir is reported to have said, “I was fifty miles away, afoot, alone and weary, yet all of my blood turned to wine and I have not been weary since.”

And therein may lay the essence of the Mt. Shasta experience. More than anything, what fascinates people about the mountain is the gosh-awful grandeur of the place. It inspires awe, and so people pour that awe into a multiplicity of belief systems. The place may very well be a vortex to some otherworldly place, or it may just be a vortex of amazing beauty.

As Steven Jackson put it, writing for NPR, when he hiked there: “I don’t have a spiritual epiphany. But the air feels cold and sharp. The old-growth cedars are covered in brilliant green moss and shape-shifting clouds whip across the sky impossibly fast. In short, it is literally awesome. And regardless of what one believes about the mountain, it’s easy to see why it has so many legends to its name.”

IF

The Firewolf

Some years ago, when I was still doing art inspired by American Indian sprituality, I had a powerful dream. In this dream, I was gazing into a campfire out in the woods. An enormous grey wolf emerged from the fire, leaping over my head and knocking me flat on my back, his fur trailing sparks of fire that left my eyes dazzled. He ran off and disappeared into the darkness of the forest.

When I woke, I thought perhaps this was a power dream sent to me by the wolf spirit. My teacher had encouraged me to take such dreams seriously and to use them in the artwork. As it happened, I was in the process of making a medicine shield, an object inspired by personal visions, or vision quests, and used by various tribes to protect them spiritually. I figured the dream had sent me the image I needed for it.

When I presented the finished shield to my teacher, she was amazed. “What inspired you to use this image?” she asked.

I told her about the dream.

“You already knew about the firewolf, then?”

“Firewolf? No, I’ve never heard of that.”

She went on to explain that in the traditions of some tribes, fire is considered a wolf and must be treated with respect. You must remember to thank the firewolf for its help in keeping you warm and cooking your food, for the positive benefits it brings, or it might turn on you.

“It’s really significant,” she said, “that you had that dream and had never heard of the firewolf before.”

I thought so, too, and was amazed. I wondered briefly if it might be a case of cryptomnesia, where one is exposed to an idea but doesn’t recall the exposure. But whatever it was, I was thrilled.

I thought I’d write about it for the folklore blog. I duly set about looking up the firewolf legends on the internet in order to provide some references. And therein lies the problem. I found pagans named Firewolf, fictional stories about fire wolves, games featuring fire wolves, so clearly the concept is in the zeitgeist. But I found almost nothing about American Indian traditions concerning fire and wolves. According to Native American Mythology A to Z by Facts on File, Incorporated, the Ute Indians believed Wolf brought fire to mankind:

Tales frequently involve the theft of fire from the being that possessed it. Often the bringer of fire was an animal or a bird, such as Beaver (Nez Perce), Coyote (many traditions), Deer (Nootka), Fox (Jicarilla Apache), Muskrat (Anishinabe), Turkey (Cherokee), or Wolf (Ute). Grandmother Spider (Spider Woman) stole fire for the Choctaw. In one Cherokee tale, a water spider was responsible for the gift of fire.

So, I don’t know what tradition my teacher was referring to. Indian mythology is not a monolith—each tribe has their own set of stories and beliefs. Sometimes there’s overlap, but each tradition is unique, and there are many, many stories out there. I just have no idea which one she meant.

And the cryptomnesia idea is playing through my mind again, once I saw that the Utes believed Wolf brought the first fire. My mother, you see, grew up on the Ute reservation. It’s entirely possible I heard something along the way.

Which does nothing to diminish the vividness and power of that dream. That remains a gift of the unconscious realm, the realm where all things are possible, where mysteries are far more important than answers.

IF

Mother, with Firewolf

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I’ll be taking part in the annual American Turkey Bacchanal (otherwise known as Thanksgiving) and won’t be posting a folklore blog this week. But…

Here’s a very interesting website with lots of Native American Turkey mythology.

Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate it!

 

Random quote of the day:

 

“Some people hear their own inner voices with great clearness.  And they live by what they hear.  Such people become crazy…or they become legend.”

—Jim Harrison, Legends of the Fall

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Disclaimer:  The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Siegfried and Roy, Leonard Maltin, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.