This section is from the book "Myths And Folk-Tales Of The Russians, Western Slavs, And Magyars", by Jeremiah Curtin. Also available from Amazon: Myths and Folk-Tales of the Russians, Western Slavs, and the Magyars.
As to the collection of these myths and beliefs, the following may be stated: -
There is everywhere a sort of selvage of short tales and anecdotes, small information about ghosts and snakes, among all these races, which are easily obtained; and most Europeans seem to think that when they have collected some of these trivial things they have all that the given people possess. But they are greatly mistaken. All these people have something better. There was not a single stock of Indians in America which did not possess, in beautiful forms, the elements of an extensive literature, with a religion and philosophy which would have thrown light on many beginnings of Aryan and Semitic thought, a knowledge of which in so many cases is now lost to us, but which we hope to recover in time. The same may be said of other primitive races, still unbroken, unmodified; and though much has been lost, still enough remains to serve our purpose fully, if civilized men instead of slaying "savages," directly and indirectly, will treat them as human beings, and not add to the labor of those workers who in the near future will surely endeavor, singly or in small groups, to study the chief primitive races of the earth, and win from them, not short insignificant odds and ends of information, but great masses of material; for the educated world may rest assured that these races possess in large volume some of the most beautiful productions of the human mind, and facts that are not merely of great, but of unique, value.
In the introduction to my volume, "Myths and Folk-lore of Ireland," I endeavored to explain in brief what the myths of America are, especially the Creation-myths, referring only to those which I myself have collected. I stated that, "All myths have the same origin, and that all run parallel up to a certain point, which may be taken as the point to which the least developed peoples have risen" (page 27). I do not know any better way of illustrating this than to bring into evidence myths of the Morning-star. The Indians have a great many myths in which the Morning-star figures as the Light-bringer, - the same office as that indicated by the Latin word Lucifer; and here I may be permitted to present a short chapter of my personal experience with reference to that word and the Morning-star.
I remember well the feelings roused in my mind at mention or sight of the name Lucifer during the earlier years of my life. It stood for me as the name of a being stupendous, dreadful in moral deformity, lurid, hideous, and mighty. I remember also the surprise with which when I had grown somewhat older and begun to study Latin, I came upon the name in Virgil, where it means the Light-bringer, or Morning-star, - the herald of the sun. Many years after I had found the name in Virgil, I spent a night at the house of a friend in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, right at the shore of Lake Michigan. The night was clear but without a moon, - a night of stars, which is the most impressive of all nights, vast, brooding, majestic. At three o'clock in the morning I woke, and being near an uncurtained window, rose and looked out. Rather low in the east was the Morning-star, shining like silver, with a bluish tinge of steel. I looked towards the west; the great infinity was filled with the hosts of heaven, ranged behind this Morning-star. I saw at once the origin of the myth which grew to have such tremendous moral meaning, because the Morning-star was not in this case the usher of the day but the chieftain of night, the Prince of Darkness, the mortal enemy of the Lord of Light. I returned to bed knowing that the battle in heaven would soon begin. I rose when the sun was high next morning. All the world was bright, shining and active, gladsome and fresh, from the rays of the sun; the kingdom of light was established; but the Prince of Darkness and all his confederates had vanished, cast down from the sky, and to the endless eternity of God their places will know them no more in that night again. They are lost beyond hope or redemption, beyond penance or prayer.
I have in mind at this moment two Indian stories of the Morning-star, - one Modoc, the other Delaware. The Modoc story is very long, and contains much valuable matter; but the group of incidents that I wish to refer to here are the daily adventures and exploits of a personage who seems to be no other than the sky with the sun in it. This personage is destroyed every evening. He always get's into trouble, and is burned up; but in his back is a golden disk, which neither fire nor anything in the world can destroy. From this disk his body is reconstituted every morning; and all that is needed for the resurrection is the summons of the Morning-star, who calls out, "It is time to rise, old man; you have slept long enough." Then the old man springs new again from his ashes through virtue of the immortal disk and the compelling word of the star.
Now, the Morning-star is the attendant spirit or "medicine" of the personage with the disk, and cannot escape the performance of his office; he has to work at it forever. So the old man cannot fail to rise every morning. As the golden disk is no other than the sun, the Morning-star of the Modocs is the same character as the Lucifer of the Latins.
The Delaware story, also a long one, has many grotesque and striking elements. I will tell it in a closely compressed form. The person who is the hero of this tale has a wife, who, while he is absent hunting, turns into a man-eater, - becomes a devouring agency with a mania to swallow all flesh, but has a special and craving mania to eat up her own husband first of all; so she runs to the woods to find him. Informed by a wise, talking dog, a species of brother of his, who had sprung out to anticipate the woman, the man rushes off southward, runs with all speed till he reaches a deep mighty river, where is an old man who makes a bridge by stretching his neck across the water. The hunted husband speaks kindly, and implores for means to cross or his wife will devour him. The old man lies down with his shoulder on one bank, stretches his neck, makes it flat like a horse's neck, to give safe passage; soon his head is-on the other bank, and the man walks over. The old bridge-maker promises to delay the woman, and then throw her into the river, where she will be eaten by monsters, - all save her stomach, in which her life resides; that will float down with the current, come to life, and the woman will be as well and furious as ever, unless the stomach is dragged out, cut to pieces, and burned.