Choctaw tradition tells us that when People first came up out of the ground we were sheathed in cocoons. Our eyes were closed and our limbs were folded tightly to our bodies. It is said that this was true of all People; the Birds, the Animals, the Insects, and the Humans. Great Spirit took pity on the People of Earth. He sent help down to unfold the limbs, dry each one off, and opened their eyes to see. The world was a dark place with no sun, moon, or stars at the time so the opened eyes saw nothing. The People had to move around by touch, hoping to find something to eat that did not eat them first. They ate their food raw because there was nothing to cook it with.
A great Council was called for all the People to meet and decide what to do. The Animal and Bird People took the lead in the meeting while the Human People stayed in the back. The Animals and Birds decided that life was not good. It was cold and miserable! Can we fix this? A voice from the dark said, “I have heard that the people in the East have fire.” Many voices asked, “What could fire be?” After much discussion, it was decided that if fire was warm and gave light, they wanted it too. “But the people of the East are too greedy to share with us,” a voice was heard to say. The Bird People and the Animal People came to the conclusion that they would need to steal the fire for themselves.
Grandmother Spider volunteered first but no one listened to her tiny voice. First the council sent Opossum to hide the fire in his furry tail. He came back with no fire and a tail that no longer could grow fur.
Even though, Grandmother Spider offered to go again, the Council chose Buzzard to go next. At the time, Buzzard had lovely long feathers on his head. He planned to hide the fire on his head amongst his feathers. The People really did not understand how fire worked. So, Buzzard returned with no fire and no feathers on his head and would forever have a red and blistered looking neck.
Crow was known to be very clever so the Council sent him, next. With his sweet singing voice and snow white feathers Crow could surely find a way to get the fire. He stayed too long at the fire trying to find the best piece as is the way with Crows. His white feathers turned to black and his voice changed from the smoke into the “Caw” that we know today.
Grandmother Spider used her loudest voice this time, “PLEASE, LET ME TRY!” The Council felt that she would fail too but were willing to give her a turn. Grandmother Spider walked toward a stream where she had found clay. She created a tiny clay container with a lid that fit perfectly. She placed a tiny notch for air in the corner of the lid. Placing the container on her back she spun a web all the way to the East. Grandmother Spider walked on her tiptoes until she came to the fire. She was so small that no one noticed her. She placed a tiny piece of fire in the container, covered it with the lid and used her web to get back to the Council. “Grandmother Spider brings no fire.” the People cried because they could not see anything.
“No,” she cried, “I do have the fire!” She gently took the pot from her back, lifted the lid, and the fire flamed up into the air. All the Birds and Animals began to confer as to who would get this wonderful warmth. Bear burned his paws on it and decided fire was not for animals. The Bird People saw what happened with Buzzard and Crow and decided it was not for them. The Insect People were intrigued with the beauty of the fire but wanted no part of it for their people.
The Human People were not very well thought of by the other People of Earth and had remained quiet through the proceedings. They asked if they could have the fire with Grandmother Spider’s help. So, Grandmother Spider taught the Human People how to feed the fire with sticks and wood. She showed them how stay safe from the fire and not to let it spread. Grandmother Spider taught them how to use the fire to cook their food and make utensils from the clay using fire.
I shared this legend with you today because when fire is used responsibly it provides us with warmth, light, and cooked food. When used negligently it can cause devastation. Last week, some children were playing with fire and caused one fine woman who many of us admire to experience A Total Loss to her home. Perhaps we can all find that inner flame inside us that sends the warmth of human kindness to help Susan and her family recover from this tragedy.
~Mitakuye Oyasin~ We are all related