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Nov 14, 2009 at 02:40 PM

The blessed damozel leaned out
     From the gold bar of Heaven;
Her eyes were deeper than the depth
     Of waters stilled at even;
She had three lilies in her hand,
     And the stars in her hair were seven.

- from Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1847, "The Blessed Damozel"


As author Julia Davis notes, to the people of the Shenandoah Valley the favored translation of the meaning of the word "Shenandoah" is "Daughter of the Stars" (variously, in the plural, "Daughters") and, to take it from the people of the Shenandoah Valley, that name comes with a Senedo creation legend. Where that legend actually came from is certainly a mystery -- whether it was originally a translation of the word; or something that was simply transmitted, generation to generation, among the inhabitants of the Valley; or whether there was some written record by the early white settlers. We do know that in fact there is no written record by the Senedo, that is, no object, shard, vessel, strip of parchment or leather from them whereby the story could be traced back. 

images/stories/nuit_encircling.jpgBut in a way that is less important than the content of the legend, which presents a universal, if esoteric theme that we can find not only in the native American imagination, but also in the mythologies of ancient Egypt, Finland and even the Jewish Kabbalah. [image on right in public domain, courtesy of wikipedia.] It is a story of a fall from heaven, from the stars, or from the sky, and (possibly) of a return, a theme which spools easily into the Christian narrative of the Fall and Redemption as well (and why not, since the origin of that is detailed in the Book of Moses). The notion of a fall from the heavens, or from the sky to earth, of sudden accidental descents which then lead to the origination of earthly history, are not entirely rare in native American creation lore in general, but the Senedo version presents some details which are particularly resonant.

Fall from heaven, or interchange between heaven and earth, a kind of organic Jacob's Ladder, is a repeated theme in many variations among native Americans. In many cases the universe is mapped out in terms of heaven and earth, sky and land (and water), with astronomical objects such as the stars and sun being personalized and concretized as animals; and there are a series of events by means of which beings transit from the heavens to earth, often featuring accidents, folly, disruptions of various kinds. The Iroquois, who are considered by many to be relatives of the Senedo (the assertion is that the Senedo were in fact a branch or fragment of the Iroquois - or, alternatively, that they were defeated if not totally wiped out by the Iroquois) have the story of "Sky Woman" who, in a celestial and idyllic world, in which a Tree of Life was central, became curious and caused the tree to be uprooted.  Peering into the hole in which the tree's roots had been, she fell in and tumbled to earth -- actually to an island, because the realms below heaven were pictured as air and water.  Her fall resulted in the creation of an earthly dwelling place -- she becomes the great Grandmother -- and eventually parts of her are returned to the heavens, her head becomes the moon which lights the way of her people at night, etc. One version of the Iroquis Sky Woman story can be found here.


Here is the story, as recounted on shenandoahvalley.com

"After the Great Spirit made the world, the morning stars came together on the shores of a quiet silver lake bordered with blue mountains. It was the most beautiful place they could see. Hovering above the quiet waters and lighting the mountain tops with their robes of fire, the stars sang their songs of joy and pledged to gather there every thousand years.

"Once, when the stars were singing, there came a mighty crashing sound. The mountain wall tore asunder. Through the deep opening, the waters of the lake began to pour out and rush to the sea. 

"As time passed, the stars looked all over the earth for another place to meet. They finally agreed upon a lovely valley through which a winding river ran. Soon, the stars realized that this valley had been the bed of their beautiful lake and the blue mountains around it were the same ones they had lit with their robes of light in ages past. 

"The stars were so joyous they placed the brightest jewels from their crowns in the river where they still lie and sparkle. And ever since that day, the river and its valley haveimages/stories/isis150.jpgbeen called Shenandoah, Daughter of the Stars."

As everyone who is familiar with the work of Robert Graves, Joseph Campbell or any of a number of other experts on mythology, will be aware, there is among the creation legends of the world, from far-flung places, an astonishing and unexplained similarity. The Egyptian story of how the body of Osiris is hacked to pieces and then recovered, knit back together (by Isis, pictured, image on right), is echoed in Finnish mythology and the Jewish Kabbalah (and hence the Bible!!) among many other places. It is also the story of the Shendo. 

The world-as-reflection concept is in general found in Buddhism, of course, where it first takes the form of "samsara," or illusion. But in several mythological narratives it is connected to a magical creative state that explains the entire universe as the thought of deity. It is eerily close to leading-edge scientific accounts, in view of what we are learning about brain functioning, quantum physics and the "anthropomorphic universe," that is to say the interdependence of the perceiving organism and the perceived universe in which perception is rooted.

Consider this Apache account:

"In the beginning was only Tepeu and Gucumatz (Feathered Serpent). These two sat together and thought, and whatever they thought came into being. They thought Earth, and there it was. They thought mountains, and so there were. They thought trees, and sky, and animals etc, and each came into being."

(More at www.crystallinks.com)




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