native american literature & functions of myth

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NATIVE AMERICAN
LITERATURE & FUNCTIONS
OF MYTH
This is an oral literature that is thousands of
years old and was only written down in the
past 150 years. No one knows how old the
stories really are.
Four Functions of Myth
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1) Instills awe: evokes in the individual a sense of
grateful, affirmative awe before the vast mystery of existence. So
characters, landscapes and magical actions in story make the
listener feel amazement and reverence toward forces greater than
themselves.
2) Presents an image of the cosmos (of the universe round about
you, presented in an orderly way): that will maintain and enhance
this experience of awe and explain everything that you come into
contact with in the world around you. Actions and characters in the
story explain the way specific creatures, features or characteristics
(of people, animals, land) are and how they got that way. Can also
explain symbolic dimensions.
Four Functions Myth
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3) Validates and maintains a certain social system: a shared set
of rights and wrongs – basically rules – on which your particular
social unit (family, tribe, race, nation) depends for its existence.
Actions and characters in the story that explain why specific
customs, rituals, rules, values or ways of doing things are (or
should be) important to the listener.
4) Guides people through the stages of life: from birth into
maturity and through old age and into death. The mythology must
do so in accord with the social order of his/her group, the cosmos
as understood by that group – including its values, and the great
mystery. Actions in the story help explain a stage (or stages) of
life, how to recognize them, the nature of the transitions they
represent and how to navigate them successfully including
confrontation with the final stage – death.
Characteristics of N.A. Myths
Right living is living in harmony w/ nature
 Major roles in the stories often played
by animals
 Ordinary people, animals places
are divinities – gods and sacred places
 Stars and planets are often ancestors
 All of the above are seen as a sacred whole –
the Hoop of Life
 Humans must maintain a right relationship
with the world around them
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Features of Native Literature
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Stories teach lessons, often spiritual, and are
part of the histories of individual tribes
The stories reflect an inclusive view of the
natural world – everyone and thing counts
Generally use powerful metaphors
Use archetypes– an original pattern of a type
of character that is used often in
different stories over the ages
Features (cont.)
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The stories and legends often have ritual
beginnings and endings
Progress and change are shown as cyclical, not
linear as much western thinking is
Many of the stories have a Trickster character
(often a raven or spider)
Often use repetition of elements for emphasis
Common themes
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Movement from a sky world to
a water world
Fortunate fall –creation story
Earth-diver myth usually involving
an earth made from mud or a flood
after the universe is created
Theft of fire
Emergence myth– movement of beings from
under the surface to the surface of the earth
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