THE Indians of New Mexico have no written language. Their
myths have passed orally from generation to generation, and
one of the principal tasks of modern ethnologists has been to
record and preserve them. In detail these mythic beliefs vary from tribe
to tribe, and yet throughout the land occupied by the Pueblo and
Navaho Indians there are fundamental similarities and uniformities that
afford a basis of thought for a lore of a grandeur and beauty comparable
to the great myths of the world.
The mythic core of the Indians of the Southwest can be divided into
three parts: the creation myths, the legends which are largely epic
narrations, and the folktales and fables.
The Age of the Beginning, or the concept of the origin of the uni-
verse held by the Pueblo and Navaho, explains everything in their
lives—the heavens, the earth with its plants and animals, and finally
man. It explains their relation to one another and their tribal origins.
The Pueblo and Navaho alike believe that they emerged from a series
of worlds below the surface of the earth. The Pueblo Indians place
the point somewhere near their present respective domains, while the
Navaho relate that they came to the earth's surface through a sacred
lake located in the La Plata Mountains of southwestern Colorado.
The general story tells of world levels that are symbolic of the stages of
development in the evolution of life. From living matter in water the
Mist People, who filled the primal dark world, evolved through insect,
reptile, bird, and mammal forms. Finally man, followed by his broth-
ers—the lower examples of animal life—climbed to the world of sun-
light and understanding where they were given the shapes they now
possess. Man brought with him a tree, maize, and magic.
Closely allied to the creation myths are the legends of the migrations
and the parts played by gods and heroes in the early history of the
various tribes. This period is called the Age of the Gods or the Great
Age. All things were gigantic. Colossal birds dwelt on peaks and huge
serpents lived in caves and canyons. The Twin Gods of War slew
the enemy giants and beasts who preyed upon the people. Sober-faced
Indians today will point to the lava flows, volcanic necks, and dark
buttes found throughout the mountain regions of the Southwest, and
say that they are the blood and bones of the monsters of this period.