Posted tagged ‘Creator’

Story of the Butterfly

November 9, 2010

Long and long ago, when the world was still new, the Creator watched children playing.  He watched their sheer joy, and enjoyed their laughter.   In the four directions he looked, he saw beauty—before him, behind, him, above him, and below him.  He smelled the sweetness of flowers, heard the song of birds, saw the bright blue of the sky, and tasted the first touch of the coming cold on his tongue.  This reminded him that time was passing…that winter would come again…that these children would all grow old and pass away as he had watched human children do over and over again.  The leaves would turn brown and fall from the trees, and the flowers would fade to replenish the Earth. 

 He decided to create something to memorize this moment, something that would be a part of all this beauty.  And so he gathered the blackness from the hair of the children’s parents.  He took the orange and reds of the falling leaves.  He grabbed bits of sunlight, and the colors of the flowers.  He took the evergreen needles of the pines.  He took the soft whiteness of the clouds, and added all these things into a bag of buckskin. He smiled and after a moment, added the songs of the birds to his bag.

 When he finished, he held the bag close to his heart, and called the children to him. He handed them his bag and told them to see what was inside.  When they opened the bag, a cloud of butterflies emerged.  They were like winged jewels.  They were all the colors of the rainbow.  It was as if flowers were flying. The spirits of the children and the adults soared like hawks, for they had never seen anything like this before.  The butterflies, light as a lizard’s lick, touched on the heads and shoulders of their grateful audience.  The butterflies swirled around and began to sing.

 But then a bird flew to the Creator’s shoulder and began to complain.  “Why have you given our precious songs to these small and pretty beings?  You have already made them wings more beautiful than ours—why give them our songs as well?  You promised us that each bird would have his or her own song.  It is not right to do what you have done.”

 The Creator looked at the small bird and nodded.  “You are right.  I promised one song for each bird, and it is not right to give them away to others.”  So the Creator made the butterflies silent, and thus they remain today.  But their beauty touches all people and opens up the songs in our own hearts.

 Further south, it is said the world is a reflection of itself…the world of dreams and the world of work.  It is taught these two worlds are like the wings of the butterfly.  The dream world is one wing, and the working world is the other.  The wings must connect at the heart for the butterfly to fly and live.  Real life – true life—happens because of the movement of the wings.  And this is what marriage is like.  It mirrors the butterfly’s heart, kept alive by the love of the husband and wife, moving together like twin wings.

A traditional Tohono O’odham story (with a Mayan coda)      

 retold by CoyoteCooks

I was asked by a friend for help in finding an appropriate story for her to tell at a friend’s upcoming wedding.  I requested more details about  those involved,  and was told this was a couple in their 50’s, and it was neither’s first wedding.  I suggested the butterfly story, for a number of reasons.  First, I wanted a story that wasn’t overly long, since the focus should be on the ceremony and celebration rather than on a performance.  I wanted a story that acknowledged a couple who are able to appreciate their experience of marrying again in a way a couple in their early 20s who have never been married can’t fully imagine.  That’s why I emphasized in the story how the Creator both celebrated the moment of joy, but also had sadness that this was the Autumn of life, rather than the Spring.

Here’s part of the e-mail I sent to her: .

I thought this might be appropriate for your needs.  I decided to do a retelling of a traditional Tohono O’odham legend.  These are the people who are Native to the general Phoenix area, so it will let you bring a gift from where you have been.  I then finished with a teaching from Native people further south—the Mayan.

 In similar situations, after I would tell a story of this nature, I would then end by giving a small butterfly image as a gift to the new couple.  I would probably then add the suggestion:  “And in the weeks to come, you will see an image of a butterfly.  Perhaps you will be at work, or perhaps you will be with the one you love.  You will see a butterfly and you will smile, remembering this precious day.”

 She responded that she felt the story was “perfect for this couple,” and that she would let me know how the event went.

 I answered,

One of the advantages of being from the southwest is the abundance of Zuni “fetish” carvings of various animals one can find at various shops.  I notice that for butterfly “fetishes” the artists often use mother of pearl or abalone shells as their media, which I suspect, is to capture the iridescence of their models 🙂  Since these small carvings usually range from $10.00-35.00, I’ve given away quite a few during presentations.  My favorite happened when I was asked to keynote the International Academy of Sex Research when its conference was held in Seattle.  The President elect was the clinical director where I was working.  She said, “I’ve never heard you talk about sex, but you say so many interesting things in the staff meetings, I’m sure you talk about sex as well.”

 I went home to the reservation and asked my mom, “What should I tell a lot of white people from around the world about sex?”

 She said–“Go talk to your Uncle Rooster.”

 So I did–and he said, “Tell them about Coyote’s Growing Medicine.”

 And so I did, and at the end of the story, I presented a small Coyote Zuni fetish to the new president.  She later told me it’s become a tradition that when the new president takes office, he or she is presented with the coyote fetish 🙂

I wanted to pair a recipe that would go well with the Butterfly legend, and thought something light and sweet might do it.  This is Brett’s Blueberry Special:     Take a cup of fresh blueberries (or thawed) and add to a cup of diced fresh  heirloom tomatoes.  Tear fresh basil into small bits to release their fragrance and add to the tomatoes and berries.  I’ve been carefully tending my “plantation” of basil plants  that I’ve mentioned before on my patio.  Now drizzle a couple of teaspoons of honey and squeeze the juice of one fresh lime onto the ingredients.    Toss and enjoy.

OH–UPDATE:  I was happy to find this in my e-mail this morning–

Many, many thanks for sharing your version of the story of butterfly.  I told this (with appropriate recognitions) at M’s wedding last Friday.  It was the perfect story for that perfect day.  M and T and their family and friends loved it – it was especially significant to M (which was my intent).  I followed your advice and gave them a butterfly fetish (Zuni) at the end of the story – the perfect touch!
Thank you for being such a wonderful storytelling friend. 


Why Bluejay Hops…

February 18, 2010

One of the last times I heard my relative Sobiyax (Bruce Miller) tell a story was at a conference in Las Vegas. He was in a wheelchair and looked frail.  I still thought of him as being so large and strong.  He had once punched out a horse.  He broke his hand.  When our van was blocked by a car that had parked too close, he managed to push it so hard, it tipped enough for us to back out. 

Diabetes had taken away one of his legs; a stroke would take his life a few months later.  At the conference, Sobiyax told the Twana story of “Why Blue Jay Hops.”



Long ago, long before the coming of the Great Flood, Blue Jay was hungry.  He was excited to hear Bear inviting people to his Longhouse for a feast.

 image courtesy of

The food was placed in the proper ceremonial way, but there was no oil.  Now in those days, one would dip one’s food in oil, much the way today you might spread butter on your bread, or put dressing on your salad.

When the people saw there was no oil, they started to mutter, “Why Bear doesn’t even know how to give a feast!” 

Another commented, “No Oil! How Rude.  We should just go home.”


Bear heard what they said, and laughed.  “You want oil?” he called out.  “I’ll give you oil!”  And he danced out to the middle of his Longhouse where the fire was burning and the salmon was roasting.

He sang his Song and as he sang he rubbed his hands together.  Now bears have a lot of fat underneath their skin, and the heat of the fire started to make the fat melt, and it dripped out in the form of oil.  This was caught by his relatives in a large wooden bowl and passed around to his guests.

Someone was watching this and that someone was Blue Jay.  He envied the Power and magic of Bear.  Before the people left, Blue Jay called out, saying, “Next full moon, I invite all of you to my Longhouse for a feast!”

The following moon, the people gathered at the home of Blue Jay.  Once again, they were shocked to see there was no oil. 

“Blue Jay doesn’t even know how to give a feast!” 

“How rude!  No oil!  We should just go home.”

            Blue Jay laughed and shouted, “You want oil?  I’ll give you oil!”  And he danced out to the middle of his Longhouse, where the fire was burning.  He sang the Song of Bear, and began to rub his hands – really his feet – together over the fire in the manner of Bear.

            Now our Old People teach us that everyone has a Song. Part becoming an adult is learning what your Song is, so you can become all that you can be.  A Song can be given; a Song can be shared.  But a Song must never be stolen.

Someone was watching.  And that someone was the Creator.  The Creator was so angry, He made the fire jump up and it burned Blue Jay’s feet.  And that’s why even today when you see a Blue Jay, his feet are dark and twisted, as though they’ve been burned in a fire.

image courtesy of v4vodk    A Blue Jay can’t walk like a normal bird.  He can only hop.  Even today, Old People will say, “He hops like a Jay,” which means the person they’re talking about is a thief.

The Trickster best known to non-Natives is Coyote, but if you continue further up in the Pacific Northwest, Native people will tell Raven stories that sound very similar to those of Coyote. Among some of the Native communities in between, the stories will focus on Blue Jay, and the Winter Spirit Dances are sometimes called Blue Jay Dances.  In one story, Blue Jay rescues light, but in doing so, a door slams shut on his poor head, resulting in its odd flattened shape.

 image courtesy of vidterry

A resource I would suggest, not only for Native American material, is the NPR program, Sound & Spirit. Fantasy writer Ellen Kushner is the host and co-producer, and the program frequently features mythological themes. Click here ( and then scroll down through the archived programs to discover a terrific show on Tricksters, as well as one on Native Americans, and yet another on Storytelling.

If you are looking for some written Native American resources, you might try a curriculum ( created for the U.S. National Park Service.  In a number of Parks, staff will do “interpretive” work interacting with visitors, particularly children.

            One of my relatives, Elaine (“Choppie”) Miles, used to work summers portraying Sacajawea.  She became better known a few years later on the television program, Northern Exposure, playing the nurse, Marilyn. 

And finally—you might enjoy reading the words of Sobiyax, discussing ecology and the story of trees…


As for this post’s recipe, I would suggest a tasty smoked salmon spread.  Sobiyax was very fond of this and would often sit watching television while sharing a version of this with friends and relatives, usually dipping into it with potato chips.  I’ve also used it as a sandwich spread with various other items.

Take about ¼ cup of mayonnaise or miracle whip—oh, who am I kidding…use real mayonnaise…the salmon deserves it.  Mix in at least 6 ounces of Smoked Salmon.  For me, canned Smoked Salmon was always “handmade.”  Sobiyax and others would work hard putting away dozens of jars to use through the year.  When I was teaching ethnic cooking, I would suggest Whole Foods, which carries small jars of Copper River Smoked Salmon  This  is about the closest I’ve been able to find commercially to what I would enjoy on the reservation.  Again—we live in the age of internet shopping, so I’m sure you can easily track Smoked Salmon down.  Squeeze in about a teaspoon of lemon juice.  I also sprinkle in a few drops of Frank’s Red Hot, but hey—I was shaped by years in the American Southwest.  Add a teaspoon of diced garlic, and mix in about as much Parmesan cheese (the canned stuff will do) as you did the mayonnaise.                                                                                                                  image courtesy of If it’s a little too thick, you can add a splash of heavy cream, although I suspect Sobiyax would have just added some more mayo.  Blend or mix it up – and as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’m not a big fan of smoothing everything out.  I much prefer to see (and taste) chunks of the Smoked Salmon rather than having it all come out to the consistency of cream cheese.