How a Hunter Visited the Thunder Spirits who Dwell in Mount Katahdin
A Passamaquoddy Legend
N'karnayoo. Of old times. Once an Indian went forth to hunt. And he departed from the east branch of the Penobscot, and came to the head of another branch that leads into the east branch, and this he followed even to the foot of Mount Katahdin. And there he hunted many a day alone, and met none, till one morning in midwinter he found the track of snowshoes. So he returned to his camp; but the next day he met with it again in a far-distant place. And thus it was that, wherever he went, this track came to him every day. Then, noting this, as a sign to be observed, he followed it, and it went up the mountain, Katahdin, which, being interpreted, means "the great mountain," until at last it was lost in a hard snowshoe road made by many travelers. And since it was hard and even, he took off his agahmook, or snow-shoes, and went ever on and up with the road; and it was a strange path and strange was its ending for it stopped just before a high ledge, like an immense wall, on a platform at its foot. And there were many signs there, as of many people, yet he saw no one. And as he stayed it seemed to grow stranger and stranger. At last he heard a sound as of footsteps coming, yet within the wall, when lo! a girl stepped directly out of the precipice upon the platform. But though she was beautiful beyond belief, he was afraid. And to his every thought she answered in words, and that so sweetly and kindly and cleverly that he was soon without fear, though he saw that she had powerful m'téoulin, or great magic power. And they being soon pleased one with the other, and wanting each other, she bade him accompany her, and that by walking directly through the rock. "Have no fear," said she, "but advance boldly!" So he obeyed, and lo! the rock was as the air, and it gave way as he went on. And ever as they went the maiden talked to him, answering his thoughts, so that he spoke not aloud.
And anon they came to a great cavern far within, and there was an old man seated by a fire, and the old man welcomed him. And he was very kindly treated by the strange pair all day: in all his life he had never been so happy. Now as the night drew near, the old man said to his daughter, "Can you hear aught of your brothers?" Then she went out to the terrace, and, returning, said, "No." Then anon he asked her again, and she, going and returning as before, replied, "Now I hear them coming." Then they listened, when lo! there came, as at the door without, a crash of thunder with a flash of lightning, and out of the light stepped two young men of great beauty, but like giants, stupendous and of awful mien. And, like their father, their eyebrows were of stone, while their cheeks were as rocks.
And the hunter was told by their sister that when they went forth, which was every few days, their father said to them, "Sons, arise! it is time now for you to go forth over the world and save our friends. Go not too near the trees, but if you see aught that is harmful to those whom we love, strike, and spare not!" Then when they went forth they flew on high, among the clouds: and thus it is that the Thunder and Lightning, whose home is in the mighty Katahdin, are made. And when the thunder strikes, the brothers are shooting at the enemies of their friends.
Now when the day was done the hunter returned to his home, and when there, found he had been gone seven years. All this I have heard from the old people who are dead and gone.
This tale was told me by Tomah Josephs. It seems to have nothing in common with the very widely spread myth that the thunder is the flapping of the wings of a giant bird, and the lightning the flashes of its eyes. The tradition is probably of Eskimo origin, supernatural beings partially of stone being common to Greenland and Labrador. There is a strange but entirely accidental resemblance between this story and Rip Van Winkle, as in the distant sound of the ninepins like low-muttered thunder, the hospitable entertainment, and finally the seven years as one day. Apparent resemblances are very deceptive. In the Eskimo mythology the mersugat or kutadlit, who are the higher or benevolent spirits, protecting mortals, are distinguished from the evil ones by dwelling in cliffs, to which there are invisible entrances.
There is a remarkable resemblance between Katahdin and Hrunguir of the Edda. Hrungnir has a face of stone; he is unquestionably a mountain personified, as Miss Larned declares: "His stony head pierces the blue sky." Both giants are the typical great mountain of their respective countries. Hrungnir has also very great affinity with the Chenoo giant. He has a stony heart, an insatiable appetite, and is cruel and brutal.
The Iroquois have the very stone giants -- or, as Schoolcraft calls them, the stonish giants -- themselves, and a very curious picture of them has been preserved. Of them he remarks, "Who the giants are intended to symbolize is uncertain. They are represented as impenetrable by darts." The connection between the stone giants of the Indians, the Eskimo, and the Norsemen, if not historical, is at least identical in this, that they all typify the mountains.
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