Animals, Butterflies, the Sun, and the Sky
Involving Creation in the Creation (for kids)
by Vicki Garlock
This is the second in a three-part series on creation stories. Part one, “How the World Came to Be,” was published in TIO’s April 2017 edition.
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While numerous creation stories center on how the entire world came to be, others focus on particular aspects of creation. Many stories center on celestial features. How did we get night and day? Why are there clouds? Why is the appearance of the moon constantly changing? Why does the sun appear to move across the heavens?
Other stories center on unique features found in the animal kingdom. Why do snakes crawl on the ground? Why does the kangaroo have a pouch? Why do giraffes have long necks? Why do elephants have long trunks?
These legends fascinate kids, who regularly wonder about and ask similar questions themselves. They are also easy-to-use for educators and caregivers, since craft ideas tumble naturally out of story content. Here are a few narratives that we use in the World Creation Stories unit of my interfaith FaithSeekers curriculum for kids.
The Sun Arises and the Seasons Follow
The sun, lighting the daytime sky, warming the Earth, and providing nourishment for plants, figures prominently in numerous stories.
Di Jun and the Ten Suns
A fairly simple story that works well even with preschoolers is the Chinese legend of the ten suns. According to this myth, the Earth was once illuminated by the ten children of Di Jun, god of the Eastern sky. One child would ride across the sky each day, as they had done for as long as anyone could remember. Eventually, however, the ten children became bored and decided to ride across the sky in unison.
Life on Earth immediately became intolerable as their combined heat dried up the rivers and scorched the land. When they refused to heed their father’s request to return to the one-child-a-day schedule, Di Jun enlisted the help of Hou Yi, the celestial archer. Hou Yi resolved the situation by shooting down nine of the suns, leaving the one we have today. Di Jun was so distraught by Hou Yi’s actions, he expelled Hou Yi from the heavens.
How the Crow Brought Daylight
A slightly more complicated myth that we use with our elementary-school kids comes from the Inuit people. According to this legend, the world was initially dark, illuminated only by seal oil lamps. Crow had glimpsed the light on the other side of the world, so he set off to find it. After days of flying, Crow arrived at the igloo of a tribal chief. Turning himself into a speck of dust, Crow whispered instructions to the chief’s baby grandson, who began requesting “some daylight” and “some string.” The grandfather, happy to spoil his grandson, complied.
Crow grabbed the light and carried it home to his people as it dangled from the string. The people of his village were extremely grateful, even though Crow was able to bring only a portion of all the daylight available. And that is why the Inuit people must live in relative darkness for six months a year.
The Sun and the Seasons
The ancient Greeks, recognizing the relationship between the sun and the seasons, offered up the story of Persephone to explain the Earth’s cycle of spring-summer/growth and fall-winter/death. The tale of Persephone eating the six pomegranate seeds in the underworld and Zeus’ subsequent pact with Hades is a familiar one. In the end, Persephone was allowed to spend six months of the year on Earth with her mother, Demeter. This is when the earth blossoms and blooms. For the other six months, Persephone resides in the underworld. During this time, Demeter grieves, the earth turns brown, and the rivers freeze.
Another set of creation myths focuses on how the animal world came to be. These legends span the globe, but some of my favorites come from the indigenous traditions. Here are a few examples.
How the Kangaroo Got Her Pouch (Australian Aboriginal)
One day, Mother Kangaroo and young Joey encountered a very old Wombat (a short-legged, muscular quadrupedal marsupial native to Australia) who complained of thirst. Kangaroo took pity on Wombat and led him to a watering hole, while trying to keep track of her mischievous Joey. Soon, the old Wombat was complaining of hunger. Once again, Kangaroo led him to a field of lush grass.
When a hunter arrived with his boomerang looking for a tasty meal, Kangaroo bounded away to distract the hunter, but she lost both the old Wombat and Joey in the process. Eventually, it was revealed that old Wombat was really the Creator Spirit who was on Earth to reward kindness. The Spirit gave Kangaroo a little shopping bag one night as she slept. Not knowing what to do with it, she tied it around her waist, and the Spirit instantly turned the bag into a pouch where she could keep Joey warm and safe.
How Butterflies Came to Be (Southwest American Indians)
Not long after Earth Maker shaped the world, Elder Brother, Iitoi, was roaming the land. He became sad thinking about how everything would eventually die. To cheer himself up, he decided to create something bright and beautiful. He took all manner of flowers, plants, and leaves and placed them in a bag. Then, he added the melodies of songbirds. He handed the bag to some children playing in the village. When they opened it, the first butterflies flew out – full of color and song. The songbirds soon complained that giving the brightest colors and the loveliest songs to one creature was too much. Elder Brother agreed, which is why, to this day, butterflies are beautiful but silent.
A never-ending supply of these types of creation myth is available, and kids love them. In addition to crafts, you might also encourage them to create their own stories to explain something interesting in our world or to create their own animals out of various already-cut body parts that you supply.
Let me end with a rich tale from a Native American tradition called “How Grandmother Spider Stole the Sun.” This story includes an explanation of how people came to acquire the sun and how some animals acquired their unique characteristics.
The story begins with the people and animals living in darkness. Bear had heard a rumor about Sun, kept on the other side of the world. Fox attempted to retrieve Sun, first by placing it in his jaws, which explains why foxes now have blackened mouths. Possum tried next, but when she tried to carry Sun on her tail, it burned off all the hair, which explains why possums now have bare tails.
Grandmother Spider, however, wove a bag of silk and successfully retrieved Sun. Then the animals needed to decide where to place Sun. Grandmother Spider said it should be high in the sky, but no one was able to fling the Sun high enough. Finally Buzzard volunteered, putting Sun on his head and flying higher and higher till he finally set the Sun in the sky. But he burned off the beautiful feathers on his head n the process, which, of course, is why buzzards now have bare red heads.
Books with More Stories
Numerous published anthologies are also available in addition to on-line resources. Here are a few titles to get you started.
Creation Read-Aloud Stories from Many Lands by Ann Pilling (author) and Michael Foreman (illus.) (Candlewick Press, 1997)
In the Beginning: Creation Stories from Around the World by Virginia Hamilton (author) and Barry Moser (illus.) (Harcourt Brace, 1988)
The Four Corners of the Sky: Creation Stories and Cosmologies from Around the World by Steve Zeitlin (author) and Chris Raschka (illus.) (Henry Holt and Co., 2000)
Keepers of the Earth: Native American Stories and Environmental Activities for Children by Michael J. Caduto and Joseph Bruchac (Fulcrum, 1988)
Native American Animal Stories by Joseph Bruchac (Fulcrum, 1992)
Stories from the Billabong by James Vance Marshall (author) and Francis Firebrace (illus.) (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2008)
Header photo: mythologian.net