Published on January 23, 2013 by Casey
Penobscot stories about the bird spirit of Mount Katahdin.
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Of the old time. There was once an Indian girl gathering blueberries on Mount Katahdin. And, being lonely, she said, “I would that I had a husband!” And seeing the great mountain in all its glory rising on high, with the red sunlight on the top, she added, “I wish Katahdin were a man, and would marry me!”
All this she was heard to say ere she went onward and up the mountain, but for three years she was never seen again. Then she reappeared, bearing a babe, a beautiful child, but his little eyebrows were of stone. For the Spirit of the Mountain had taken her to himself; and when she greatly desired to return to her own people, he told her to go in peace, but forbade her to tell any man who had married her.
Now the boy had strange gifts, and the wise men said that he was born to become a mighty magician. For when he did but point his finger at a moose, or anything which ran, it would drop dead; and when in a canoe, if he pointed at the flocks of wild ducks or swans, then the water was at once covered with the floating game, and they gathered them in as they listed, and through that boy his mother and every one had food and to spare.
Now this was the truth, and it was a great wonder, that Katahdin had wedded this girl, thinking with himself and his wife to bring up a child who should build up his nation, and make of the Wabanaki a mighty race. And he said, “Declare unto these people that they are not to inquire of thee who is the father of thy child; truly they will all know it by seeing him, for they shall not grieve thee with impertinence.” Now the woman had made it known that she would not be questioned, and she gave them all what they needed; yet, for all this, they could not refrain nor restrain themselves from talking to her on what they well knew she would fain be silent. And one day when they had angered her, she thought, “Truly Katahdin was right; these people are in nowise worthy of my son, neither shall he serve them; he shall not lead them to victory; they are not of those who make a great nation.” And being still further teased and tormented, she spake and said, “Ye fools, who by your own folly will kill yourselves; ye mud-wasps, who sting the fingers which would pick ye out of the water, why will ye ever trouble me to tell you what you well know? Can you not see who was the father of my boy? Behold his eyebrows; do ye not know Katahdin by them? But it shall be to your exceeding great sorrow that ever ye inquired. From this day ye may feed yourselves and find your own venison, for this child shall do so no more for you.”
And she arose and went her way into the woods and up the mountain, and was seen on earth no more. And since that day the Indians, who should have been great, have become a little people. Truly it would have been wise and well for those of early times if they could have held their tongues.
This remarkable legend was related to me by Mrs. Marie Sakis, a Penobscot, a very clever story-teller. It gives the Fall of Man from a purely Indian standpoint. Nothing is so contemptible in Indian eyes as a want of dignity and idle, loquacious teasing; therefore it is made in the myth the sin which destroyed their race. The tendency of the lower class of Americans, especially in New England, to raise and emphasize the voice, to speak continually in italics and small and large capitals, with a wide display, and the constant disposition to chaff and tease, have contributed more than any other cause to destroy confidence and respect for them among the Indians.
Since writing the foregoing paragraph, I have read The Abnakis, by Rev. Eugene Vetromile. In his chapter on the Religion and Superstition of these Indians he gives this story, but, as I think, in a corrupted form. Firstly, he states that Pamola (that is, Bumole), who is the evil spirit of the night air, was the Spirit of Mount Katahdin. Now these are certainly at present two very distinct beings, which are described as being personally quite unlike. Secondly, in Vetromile’s story the mother and child disappear in consequence of the child having inadvertently killed an Indian by pointing at him. It will be seen that this feeble, impotent conclusion utterly spoils the manifest meaning of the whole legend.
Of this story Vetromile remarks that “it is, of course, a superstitious tale, made up by the prolific imagination of some Indians, yet we can perceive in it some vestiges of the fall of the first man in having transgressed the command of God, and how it could be repaired only by God. We can also trace some ideas of the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, mixed with fables, superstitions, and pagan errors. The appearance of God to Moses in the Burning Bush may be glimpsed in Pamole appearing to the Indian on Mount Katahdin, and so forth.”
The pilgrims in Rabelais did not point out scriptural coincidences with greater ingenuity than this. It is deeply to be regretted that the reverend father’s entire knowledge of the mythology of the Abenakis was limited to this single story. (Vide Bumole, in chapter on Supernatural Beings.) It may be, however, observed, that if the name Bumole or Pamola really means “he curses on the mountain,” or curse on mountain, it was natural that the evil spirit should be supposed to be on the mountain. Pamola was perhaps at an early period the spirit of lightning, and might thus be very easily confused with Katahdin.