Published on December 27, 2012 by Casey
There were once six men who spent a lot of time together. They agreed that they all wanted to go and visit the Sun, so they had a feast and called the tribe together and told them of their plan. They told the people not to be afraid if they did not return quickly, for they were sure to be gone a long time and might perhaps never return. They asked the people to help them with their prayers. Each took a new deerskin suit with the sun marked on the chest and painted the sun on their faces. They also wore a certain feather in their hair. They took tobacco to the chief and told him that they were going to start in four days. The chief agreed and gave his permission, so they gave a feast the next day. On the last day, all was prepared and all had their feathers ready.
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The next day they started due east to meet the sun. It rose higher and higher, yet they kept on, until they came to some high mountains where the Sun seemed low. They kept going and in the evening found the place where the Sun rose. They camped there that night and in the morning they caught the Sun, got on it, and talked to it. The Sun asked what they wanted and who had told them where to find him. They replied that the Great Spirit had told them where to find him. “Well, what can I do?” replied the Sun, “I am only put here to furnish the world with light. I cannot even stop to talk to you because I have to travel to the far west today as I do every day.”
“We came here to beg for your power,” said the leader, “We want to help our people to be happy.” “Well,” said the Sun again, “Look down and see your people.” Far below them they could see a dark patch, and the second man remarked that he was glad that he had come so far with the Sun, and he begged for help. “My brother,” said the Sun, “I am put here only for one thing, and that is to give light. Perhaps I can help you in some way, but you must tell me what it is.”
Then the man begged for the gift of seeing into the future. Since the Sun was could see where it was going, he could grant this. “All right,” said the Sun, “If that is all, I can help. I will put you down in the west where I go through the earth at the end of the day.”
Another man asked for everlasting life, saying “I don’t want to die. I want to be here to help my people as long as this earth will last.” “All right,” replied the Sun, “I can do that. I will grant you immortality. When you start back, you will suddenly turn into something which never dies. Your name will be Cedar Tree and you will remain forever with all nations and all people. You will be the first one that they use in their feasts. All peoples will think of you as holy.”
“I also want to be immortal,” cried another man, “I want to remain with my brother always.” “Let it be so, then,” said the Sun. “I will also bless you. You too will be a great help to all your People. You shall be everlasting. You won’t die either, and you and your friend will be changed at the same time.” Another asked to be blessed in some way associated with the water, and he later was changed into a merman-half fish and half man.
None of these men really understood what was going to happen to them. They even felt a little jealous of each other and each wished for what the other had received. When the Sun reached its western stopping place, they all climbed off and thanked to him. The last man told the Sun that he desired no change or blessing. He only wanted to remain as the Great Spirit had made him and said that he had only come to see the Sun and help the others.
As they were on their way back, the man who had first asked for everlasting life suddenly said: “Here is where I am to stay!” When the others looked back they saw a great sweet-smelling cedar tree. “Take my leaves and use them for incense at your ceremonies,” it said, “and call the cedar tree your nephew when you speak of it.”
A moment later the other man who desired immortality cried out, “Here is where I am to stop!” and, behold, they saw a great boulder. The stone spoke to them, saying: “When you are sick, heat a stone and put it where it hurts. You can also make fireplaces of me, and use me in the sweat lodges when you purify yourselves with the Cedar. I asked to be with my friend all the time, so tell the tribe to come and see us from time to time. Let them pray to us and offer us tobacco.”
And that is how the Potawatomi got the sacred cedar and the stones they use in their sweat lodges.
(Adapted from Alanson Skinner, “The Mascoutens or Prairie Potawatomi Indians, Part III, Mythology and Folklore,” Milwaukee Public Museum Bulletin 6:327-411.)