I’ve been working on this myth for a couple of weeks now (it was missing a suitable ending). The inspiration from it, as usual, came out of the blue, though I do remember thinking back to such great books as Legends of the Seminoles by the great Betty Mae Jumper. It is possible that some of the language may have been copied over, though I do not claim it to be part of Seminole cultural beliefs or even at all related. This is just one myth set in the Florida revealed through my work.
THE MYTH: The Humbling of Others
It all began with the Raccoon, brown and furry, skittering about the ground of Lady Florida, who, in those days, was busy giving life to the land and seas around Her. Often overlooked by the other majestic beings that had been born from this Great Mother, Raccoon often felt left out and giftless. They’d taken to stealing the gifts and hidden things from other animals with their nimble paws and then quickly forgetting where they’d left them. They were, after all, not after any single thing out of greed, but out of a deep sense of emptiness and loss. They felt overlooked.
That is, until the day they saw the two-legged creatures from the North be welcomed into the bosom of Mother Florida, even after all their fighting and aggression. This, they resolved, could not be allowed to pass without marking the occasion. There had to be a party, and all of Florida’s critters had to be invited… And they would be the ones to throw it. For once, there was a being with even less purpose on the Land than they! Everyone would see this as soon as these so-called Humans arrived. Everyone would praise Raccoon for arranging the whole affair.
He didn’t wish to invite Mother Florida, however, since she’d seen it wise to adopt the Humans as one of her Peoples. She wouldn’t like that Raccoon was about to poke fun of them and show off at their expense.
As the brown, mischievous Raccoon went about personally giving invitations, they quickly realized that there was an even grander statement to be made. They would find again all their discarded and stolen things and return them to the Peoples. After the planned evening, they would all see them as a hero for returning the missing gifts. So they scurried about finding that which they had stolen in the first place, and arranging it all in a great gallery. This would surely impress!
At last, it was time to invite the Humans, for the party would be ostensibly to their honor. Though Humanity did not yet speak the language of these Land’s Peoples’ too well, they were eager to join the gathering. It was the perfect way to make amends for all they had done before, they said, and Raccoon agreed. It was the perfect time to make amends.
You see, though they did not think so, Raccoon was too clever for their own good. Their new scheme was audacious, but if all went without a hitch, the Humans would be blamed for the theft of the gifts which they had hidden. Their heroism would be legendary. Mother Florida herself might reward them for such a deed with many gifts of their own!
The day of the party arrived and all the Peoples of the Land started to arrive at Raccoon’s humble abode. The gifts were hidden by palm fronds and the guests were told not to disturb them. They were walls, flimsy walls, that were the only thing keeping out the bitter frost winds. Knowing the dangers of such a wind, the People did not disturb the fronds and allowed themselves to enjoy the party in comfort. It was a very nice party.
Eventually, the Humans arrived and each of the creatures of the Lady peered at them with curiosity. It seemed they were willing to let go of the violent past.
Now was the perfect moment for Raccoon’s deception, and he slowly began to tell a tale to the gathered folx. They told the guests of walking down the pinelands one fine evening and encountering all sorts of discarded items and things. Pelts and skins, feathers, wisdom, and eternal life even! As they talked, each of the palm fronds were revealed and the very same gifts appeared. Immediately, there was chaos! The People turned on the Humans and demanded an explanation; some even demanded compensation for the theft of such precious gifts. Soon, all sense had fled from the gathering as they demanded everything the Humans had: their upright posture, their large brains, their wit and their speech. The People demanded a very heavy price.
Only one of the People did not demand repayment or punishment, the hawk. Perched on a low branch, keen eyes observing all, it waited for the commotion to die down before speaking.
“I claim nothing from the Humans, for they have nothing I would want.” The other People were stunned by this but Hawk went on: “I wish to know, however, how they stole such gifts from the People.”
The Humans were unable to answer, they still claimed to be innocent and ignorant of how to take another’s gift. The People began to murmur among themselves.
“That’s what I thought. You did not take these gifts from us. I never saw you do it, and I have watched you close,” the Hawk said imperiously. “I’ve been the eyes and ears of Our Mother, watching in the daylight just as Owl watched at night.”
For once, the People noticed the absence of Owl from the party. Not a feather of them here.
“Now, who would stand to gain the most from this charade and who would fear Owl’s witness? Who scampers about at night causing mischief?” Hawk stared plainly at Raccoon.
They spluttered for an answer. They weren’t a gifted orator and no words would come to their defense. But it was wily, so it finally said, “Why would I host this party if I stole all your gifts? Not a wise thing to do!”
“Not wise,” said Hawk calmly, “but very clever to blame the Humans for your misdeeds. At the same time, you would have us praise your selfless act of returning gifts. Clever you.”
“It was not me, I swear! I found these gifts and I kept none of them for myself! I swear!”
The People rounded on Raccoon, who looked very guilty indeed, but before they could punish them, the Great Mother stepped into the party clad in clouds.
“Let them alone, my Children.” She pronounced. “Who here has not done a wrong thing and sought forgiveness? Let Raccoon find a way to atonement.”
The People parted for her, as she took much space and was due the respect of a Mother. Their anger quelled, they slithered and hopped and walked and flew toward their gifts and put them back on. To their horror, they realized that so much time had gone without them, that they had mastered new ones. These wouldn’t fit back with their beings and they liked themselves just fine as they were now.
“These are useless now,” said Alligator. “But I love my scales too much to go back to feathers! I would not discard these new gifts.”
“I will take them back,” said Mother Florida. “They’ll be scattered across the land and anyone who wants them can quest to earn them back.”
She said this last looking directly at the Humans, smiling.
“As for you…” She started before Raccoon interrupted.
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to…”
“You will watch over Human’s dwellings and you will always remember you sought another’s gifts and look for theirs. It is up to them what you receive.” Her verdict pronounced, she once again ascended to the skies and passed across the land.
It is not known whether Humans ever forgave Raccoon for his duplicity, but they are not a rare sight among our homes, looking for the scraps they might find. It’s been such a long time, however, that you might now actively seek them out and give them what is owed.