This is the second myth of Florida I wrote, very much in answer to the first one I’ve already shared. It didn’t sit well that there was no real resolution to where things had ended before. There had to be peace, but also struggle and sacrifice. As I wrote it, I was surprised to see how it paralleled to some of the crises and problems we face today. I’ll let you freely associate which ones those are.
Historically, this myth could refer to the formation of the Everglades. This was an event that took hundreds of years, and was thus very gradual. It also happened some 4,000-6,000 years ago. During this time, the Glades culture inhabited the region around Lake Okeechobee. The “Mound People” refers to them, who were possibly descendants of the Mississippian mound culture and likewise built similar constructions around what slowly became Lake Okeechobee. However, while “channeling” this myth, I very much felt it was being told from the perspective of the Calusa, many centuries after the fact. They obviously appropriated a shared myth here.
I decided to make this post today, on Janaury 31, to coincide with the date and time of a total lunar eclipse. The parallel is quite intentional.
THE MYTH: The Making of Peace
This happened so long ago that not even the ancestral people of the Land can tell what happened after the Lady broke peace with Moon. They mutter of great changes and the dying out of beasts, and sometimes we find their bones preserved in bogs and peat. The past remains mysterious, but inviting. The seas rose, pulled by the power of the Moon, and swallowed the first homes of the People. The water rose and flooded the cavern burial sites, sweeping away the bones of their ancestors. The people forgot things, then, that should have been remembered. They forgot how to live in peace and war ensued.
And yet, the People who lived in Florida grew tired of this struggle. Their lives were torn between the knowledge of the Moon and the bounty of the Land. It was a time of long drought and many starved in every settlement across the peninsula. All except the Mound People in the west, their eyes turned toward the warm waters of the sea, canoes cutting through the waves to distant shores, and nets always full of fish. So, those who walked this land before us came to their mounds for a great gathering to speak on the matter of peace.
On a great mound they gathered by the thousands and spoke for many nights about the question of peace. Some showed no interest in peace, satisfied to follow the Moon in battle and only lamented they did not have more warriors to replace the fallen. Most mourned loved ones lost to war or disaster. Others despaired of ever finding a solution. At last, the gathered People resolved to pray to their gods above, below, and in this world for guidance.
They each conducted their ceremonies, weaving a powerful Calling to reach all quarters of the Earth, Sea and Sky. However, the Moon’s light waned and prayers would not reach him. The Sun was away visiting strange lands they could not see across the water. And the Lady was silent. After three nights of prayer, despairing they would never be heard, the spirit of Osprey emerged from the World-Beyond with a message.
It had heard the Lady crying in a distant cave to the north, hidden from all view. Osprey had followed the tears of the Mother down until they pooled in the lake that was her heart, and filled it with sorrow. There, it had seen a green sickness in the waters, festering with noxious gases.
“I will guide a brave soul to where the Lady hides, from where the poisoned water flows,” Osprey said.
Immediately, a hundred warriors volunteered, the strongest and the bravest in the land. They had fought the wars between the People and survived the disasters that plagued Florida. Osprey eyed them, its sharp gaze delving into their souls, and said, “There is no enemy to slay on this journey, so long as the People keep the peace. You should stay with your leaders and make sure that is done.”
Understanding their duty, the warriors stayed.
Next to volunteer were the spiritcallers, the walkers-between-worlds. Once again, Osprey pierced their soul with its keen eyes and once again it said, “Your people need you here for your wisdom. You must help keep the peace and heal the wounds of the past, both in flesh and spirit.”
Though reluctantly, they agreed to stay.
The leaders of the People offered to go, as well, but Osprey disagreed. It told them to make bonds of peace between themselves, first, so that the Lady’s Peace would flow smoothly when it came. But, most importantly, it told them how to share the bounty of Land that still remained so that all may feed and prosper.
It seemed like no matter who volunteered to go, they were each needed to hold the peace together. At long last, Osprey happened across a youth who had been silent all along, but had instead been packing and preparing for the journey ahead. No one knew the youth’s name; his parents had perished to war and disease from the moment of his birth. No one had named him, but wearily called him Silent Youth in their own language. Without a word, they understood each other and set off for the northern cave where the Lady hid.
On the third night of their silent journey, they stopped and made a fire on a bare knoll, sheltered by slash pines. The youth at last broke silence and said, “Teach me how to fly, so that I may see the path ahead.”
Osprey recognized the wisdom in this request, and bid the youth to sing a prayer, then lay down to sleep. Before dream overtook his mind, Osprey swooped in and lifted the youth out of this world. Together they soared, and witnessed the lands below in the faint moonlight. They saw the swarms of spirits on the Earth and Skies and heard the music they made. They joined dances and prayers the spiritcallers sang from a thousand fires and told them of their journey. At dawn, they both woke up and continued on their way.
That day, they reached the Lake that was the Lady’s Heart, sick with green poison, and started the long walk along its rim. There was no need to speak. They knew to go far enough away that they could not smell the sickness. Every night that followed, Osprey and the youth prayed for the Lady’s Heart on the lakeshore. In time, they found the river of the Mother’s Tears, flowing from the North and changed direction to follow it.
Along the journey, as they traveled in the world of spirit, they witnessed the fragments of memories: battles and sorrows scattered all over the Land. Sometimes, they even caught glimpses of the Lady in these memories. She seemed aged and distraught—a ghost haunting the Land rather than the powerful sovereign Lady she was.
By the ninth night, the lake of the Lady’s Heart far enough behind them, the youth spoke again to Osprey: “Why does the Lady cry?”
“Because she is our Mother and has failed to protect us. Because she has lost love and gained much bitterness. Because nothing is as it should be, and she fears what may yet come to pass.”
“She fears…?” The youth couldn’t accept this. “Is she not the grandeur of this Land? Has she not survived the Ages since before our great-grandparents can remember?”
Osprey didn’t know the answer, so Osprey said nothing, and there the conversation ended.
It wasn’t until four more dawns had come and gone that they finally reached the cave in the north where the Lady hid. Along the way the youth had flown in spirit across all the land and learned the paths that spirits of the bird people followed. They had come to know the youth as well, and ask where they were heading. Many chose to follow them, so that on arrival, there was a throng of beings surrounding the Lady’s cave. They spoke encouragement to the youth once Osprey said that only one could enter. Filling up with valor, the youth crossed the threshold into the mouth of the cave.
Inside was total darkness, but the Lady’s sobs could be heard. Her tears flowed out into the light outside. The youth spoke no words, but carefully picked the way forward by feeling along the cave walls. Jagged and sharp, they often caught on skin and tore. Bleeding but fearless, the youth pressed on and wandered deeper into the cave.
He traveled deep into the cave, ducking through low formations and down slippery slopes, past the bones of animals and people. And yet, the cave was empty. Desolate and full of sadness. At last, there was a soft light that came from below a rippling pool at the end of the cave. It was just wide enough to enter, and after a moment of trepidation, the youth finally plunged inside feet first. The water sparkled and rippled, and surrounded by it, the youth could now clearly hear the Lady. Swimming deeper and deeper, stopping for air only when available, the youth came nearer and nearer to Our Lady Florida.
Then, all at once, they were face to face. It wasn’t the face of the youth’s mother, or any being that walked the Land, but it was the Lady beyond any doubt. Unable to speak or pray or do anything but float within her, the youth felt a moment of panic, then relaxed. Knowing what to do, knowing the importance of this task, the youth let the short minutes pass. When the moment all living beings dread came, Osprey was there to rise into the world of spirits and witness the Lady where she truly dwelled.
There, bowing was easy, as was speaking. The youth said, “I have traveled far across the Land on behalf of the People. We need your assistance in making a new peace between all beings of this land, great and small…”
Our Lady Florida turned away from both the youth and Osprey, eyes welling up with tears.
“Do not cry, my Mother, my Lady,” the youth said, heart filled with compassion. “The tears you shed have poisoned the waters and collected in your heart. We sicken and your bounty withers.”
“What ails you, Lady?” Osprey said.
She told them, then, of the time she had loved both the Sun and Moon, and how the Moon had betrayed her. She told them how Moon had lured humans to her lands and set them to killing her children and each other. She told them of the confrontation, where she had asserted her power as Sovereign of the Land and finally adopted humans. But it had all been in vain, she said. No matter how much harmony and love she taught humanity, Moon had found yet new reasons for hate and warfare.
After a moment of silence, the youth spoke again, “I can tell you what has come to pass. Your withdrawal from the Land, and the bitterness at your Heart has prompted us, your Children, to come together at last for peace. Among the mounds of my people they have gathered and sworn to keep the peace. They have sworn to feed both friends and enemies through these harsh times, to sing and dance and pray for the return of harmony. All of this in your name and awaiting your return.”
The words had an effect on her, and her eyes dried up. Perhaps it was the wisdom of Osprey, learned after all this time of flying together, that spoke through the youth now. Perhaps the words delivered a healing balm from the First Father and the Lady’s Sun. Few know.
“I will follow the way to peace, if you can convince Moon to do so, too.” Each of them smiled, sensing that there was hope for peace at last. “Take this talisman to be your anchor. Days have passed since your arrival, but now you are free of your body’s constraints. Fly now, with Osprey, and find the Moon’s face among the clouds. It is full and his eyes are turned toward this Land. Fly!”
Up into the sky they shot, carried on an draft of spirit. They cleared the clouds and found the round face of the Moon among the stars. Moon watched their approach with suspicion and some scorn, knowing where from they had come.
“What do seek so high up in the sky?”
“Peace!” Cried the youth and Osprey. “Peace for all the Land!”
They heard Moon’s icy cackle and felt despair.
“There is no peace everywhere I look.”
“There is peace, there, below! Part the clouds and look below!” they said.
The Moon looked and saw the People. The warriors protected the People, the spiritcallers healed the wounds of the past, the leaders made sure each person was cared for. Every person in the Lady’s Land had come together despite millennia of fighting and struggle and had now begun to see each other as One.
The Moon bellowed in rage and sent a beam of ice-cold light to strike the People among the mounds. But the youth was faster and flew to shield them with the help of Osprey. When the beam of moonlight struck them, the talisman anchor broke and they fused together as one. Limbs of the People and feathers of the Osprey came together. The agony was great, but their determination was greater. Their voice, now unified, cried out all the louder:
“Peace! Peace! Peace!” They shrieked, flying faster than thought and light. “Peace! Peace! Peace!”
Each time they spoke, their call carried far and wide, across all quarters of the Earth and Sky. The People below heard it, the Lady heard them in her cave, and the spirits that had followed after them all took wing and joined them. The sky became filled with their cries.
The Moon became even angrier, and shone brighter than ever before, each beam of his light striking a flying spirit. But as each of them were struck, the youth and Osprey flew to their rescue and melded. One by one, they transformed and grew in strength and power until they were magnificent and covered the face of the Moon in shadow.
The Moon’s rage cooled, then, and at last he said, “Peace.”
Hearing this, the People below rejoiced and the Lady rose up into the sky as a thundercloud, like in the days of old. She and Moon embraced, not as lovers but as allies, and the youth and all the spirits of the birds flew back down toward the land.
They came down among the People, atop the highest mound, showing off their new and dazzling shape. When the People climbed up to come see them, they had gifts ready to give. To the warriors they gave paints that marked them with a willingness to sacrifice to protect the People. To the spiritcallers they gave masks of different creatures, to remember the day the Moon’s face was covered. To the leaders they gave plumed headdresses, to honor their dedication to the People.
Soon after the tears of the Mother cleared of their sickness and poison, but continued to flow. Those who pass must always be remembered. The Lady’s Heart grew healthy and clear, overflowing its southern banks and cascading across the land. This was her blessings to the People, flowing southward to make life flourish again and sweeten the salt water. It was a gift for the Mound People, too, who sacrificed and were rewarded with this bounty.
The youth and all the birds became known far and wide as a divine hero, Lord of the Birds, flying across the land in the service of peace and healing. They flock together even to this day.