Archive for August, 2012

In the Beginning of the Cherokee World In the beginning, there were two worlds: The heavenly world called ga-lun-la-ti, which was placed high in the heavens, and the lower, dark world where the forces of evil lived. Ga-lun-la-ti was populated with beings in animal, human and plant forms. All creatures spoke the Cherokee language and lived together in harmony. The earth was but a ball of water on which gigantic fish and reptiles lived. The universe of the Cherokees depended on harmony and balance. Light was balanced by dark; things of goodness balanced by things that hid from the light of day in the shadows of the darkness.

In the beginning there was no sun, but a Great Tree of Life grew in the center of Ga-lun-la-ti. It lit the world so all could see and cast its light down on the dark waters below. So it was that the Creator lived by the Tree of Life where he tended the plants and cared for the animals. Sometimes, the waterfowl, the hawks, and eagles flew down in the darkness below; giant turtles and muskrats swam on the water’s surface and bathed in the pale light of the heavenly tree. The Creator led a solitary existence. When his work was done, he sat by the Tree, admiring his world around him and below. Sometimes he became lonely and longed for a companion, perhaps a daughter who would sit beside him in the evening, watching his creation live and grow.

Then, the Creator made a young lady whose beauty and grace touched his soul. He knew that she, too, would long for someone to run and play with so he created a man in his likeness and taught his children the things that he knew.

The Creator found that his daughter laughed and sang too much; and she talked constantly. She asked too many questions. Why do the leaves of the Tree of Life shine? Who created the Upper World? Who named the plants? Creator still loved her, for this was his daughter, but this constant laughter and questions, what could he do? The Creator had told them many times to stay away from the Tree of Life and not to play around its trunk. But like all curious children she had to see why her father said these things. First Man would insist that she not go to the tree but every day First Woman would climb the tree to its highest limbs. One day she found a hole in the bottom of the trunk and started to go in. First Man was again insistent that she stay away from the tree but to no avail. She went in and fell out of the bottom of Ga-lun-la-ti.

Creator returned home to find First Woman was missing. He asked First Man, “Where is my daughter?” to which the young man replied “I told her not to go into the hole in the bottom of the tree, but she would not listen.” Creator did not know what to do as he peered over the side of Ga-lun-la-ti and saw his daughter falling toward the awesome ball of water.

Creator summoned the birds of the sky, to catch his daughter that she might not drown. They created a great blanket with their wings on which they caught her. But, where should they put her? As they flew above the deep waters, the grandfather of all turtles surfaced. “Here, place her on my back,” he said. The birds descended with the young woman, henceforth known as “Sky-Woman,” and placed her on the surface of her new home. But it was not large enough, the Muskrat volunteered to find land and dove to the bottom of the waters and brought up mud, which he placed on the turtle’s back. When she touched the earth that Muskrat had brought, it grew in all directions, becoming the earth that we know today as Turtle Island. The Creator knew that she would need more and so he sent down the plants and animals to take care of his daughter. He sent down the deer, buffalo, bear, rabbits, and squirrels to provide food and clothing. He sent the medicines of the plant people; cedar, sage, bloodroot, oak, and most importantly tobacco. Along with many others things, to provide for his future generation the Kituwah, the Cherokee.

When the First Woman, or Sky Woman, was happy with this world Creator sent First Man down to help take care of his creation. First man and First Woman were now husband and wife. They were happy and all things were good, but as in all good things bad will come and First Woman and First Man began to fight and argue.

Harsh words were said on both sides, and finally the wife said that she was leaving. Grabbing a few belongings, she began walking away from First Man. “I am going to find another place to live,” she told her husband, “You are lazy and pay no attention to me.” In a short time, the husband regretted his harsh words and tried to find his wife so he could apologize. Eventually, he realized that she was too far ahead, and he prayed to the Creator to help him. “Slow her down, Creator, so that I might tell her how much she means to me,” he asked. “Is her soul one with yours?” Creator asked. First Man replied “We have been one since the beginning of our time. We have been one since you have breathed life into our souls and we shall remain one until the end of time itself.”

Touched by the man’s anguish, the Great Spirit intervened. Seeing the way First Woman was walking he began to make plants grow at her feet to slow her down. To one side grew the blackberries and to the other grew huckleberries, but still she walked on. Again he made the plants grow and to one side grew the gooseberries and to the other grew the serviceberries, but still she walked on. The Creator knew that this would have to slow her down and so he went to his garden and grabbed a handful of strawberry plants and threw them to the earth. When they landed at First Woman’s feet they began to bloom and ripen, First Woman looked down to see the beautiful leaves and berries of the strawberry plant and stopped to taste just one small berry. As she plucked and ate the berries she forgot her anger.

Finding a basket among her belongings, she quickly filled it, and longed for her husband once more. First Man, hurrying on his way, was surprised to see his wife returning, and oh! how his heart did soar. She was smiling! She dipped her hand into her basket, and got a berry and placed it in his mouth. He smiled foolishly, and gave thanks to the Creator. Taking his hand, his wife led him back down the path to their home, feeding him strawberries on the way.

Walela singing “Amazing Grace” (in Cherokee)

Cherokee Nation

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  • The love of God is greater far
    Than tongue or pen can ever tell.
    It goes beyond the highest star
    And reaches to the lowest hell.
    The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
    God gave His Son to win;
    His erring child He reconciled
    And pardoned from his sin
  • O love of God, how rich and pure!
      How measureless and strong!
    It shall forevermore endure
        The saints’ and angels’ song.
  • When hoary time shall pass away,
    And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall;
    When men who here refuse to pray,
    On rocks and hills and mountains call;
    God’s love, so sure, shall still endure,
    All measureless and strong;
    Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—
    The saints’ and angels’ song.
  • Could we with ink the ocean fill,
    And were the skies of parchment made;
    Were every stalk on earth a quill,
    And every man a scribe by trade;
    To write the love of God above
    Would drain the ocean dry;
    Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
    Though stretched from sky to sky.

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Read the Dream of the Rood: A Modern English Translation

Gospel Accounts of Christ’s Crucifixion:

Matthew 27
Mark 15
Luke 23 
John 19 

*On Christ’s Crucifixion

Ruthwell Cross: A Transcription

Ruthwell Cross: Images

The Golden Legend: Invention of the True Cross

The Legend of Balder, the son of Odin

C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy:

“The third glimpse came through poetry. I had become fond of Longfellow’s Saga of King Olaf: fond of it in a casual shallow way for its story and its vigorous rhythms. But then, and quite different from such pleasures, and like a voice from far more different regions, there came a moment when I idly turned the pages of the book and found the unrhymed translation of Tegnner’s Drapa and read: 

I heard a voice that cried

Balder the beautiful

Is dead, is dead—

I knew nothing about Balder; but instantly I was uplifted into huge regions of northern sky, I desired with almost sickening intensity something never to be described (except that it is cold, spacious,severe, pale, and remote) and then, as in the other examples, found myself at the very same moment already falling out of that desire and wishing I were back in it.”  ~ C.S. Lewis

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When de man
Calls out de ‘las train
You’re gonna ride,
Tell him howdy.

Gather up yo’ basket
And yo’ knittin’ and yo’ things,
An’ go on up an’ visit
Wid frien’ Jesus fo’ a spell.

Show Marfa
How to make yo’ greengrape jellies,
An’ give po’ Lazarus
A passel of them Golden Biscuits.

Scald some meal
Fo’ some rightdown good spoonbread
Fo’ li’l box-plunkin’ David.

An’ sit aroun’
An’ tell them Hebrew Chillen
All yo’ stories . . . .

Don’t be feared of them pearly gates,
Don’t go ‘around to de back,
No mo’ dataway
Not evah no mo’.

Let Michael tote yo’ burden
An yo’ pocketbook an’ evah thing
‘Cept yo’ Bible,
While Gabriel blows somp’n
Solemn but loudsome
On dat horn of his’n.

Go straight on to de Big House,
An’ speak to yo’ God
Widout no fear an’ tremblin’.

Then sit down
An’ pass de time of day awhile.

Give a good talkin’ to
To yo’ favorite ‘postle Peter,
An’ rub the po’ head
Of mixed-up Judas,
An’ joke awhile wid Jonah.

Then, when you gits de chance,
Always rememberin’ yo’ raisin’,
Let ’em know youse tired
Jest a mite tired.

Jesus will find yo’ bed fo’ you
Won’t no servant evah bother wid yo’ room.
Jesus will lead you
To a room wid windows
Openin’ on cherry trees an’ plum trees
Bloomin’ everlastin’.

An’ dat will be yours
Fo’ keeps.

Den take yo’ time . . .
Honey, take yo’ blessed time.

Sterling Brown
Collected Poems (1980)

*I read this poem in Inventions of Farewell: A Book of Elegies (2001) edited by Sandra Gilbert. Sandra Gilbert is an accomplished poet and academic writer … When I was a graduate student at UC Davis, she taught a seminar on elegy. I wanted to take it but didn’t. Now I have this book, which is, at the present time, far better than any seminar. This elegy by Sterling Brown is one of my absolute favorites in Gilbert’s collection. I will be teaching an advanced poetry workshop this fall, and in the week we write elegies, we will read this.

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