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The American creation myths, as far as we know them, form simply a series of accounts of the conflicts, happenings, and various methods by which the first world was changed into the world now existing. This change was effected in various ways. In the myths of certain tribes or nations, it is mainly by struggles between hostile personages. One god of great power and character overcomes a vast number of opponents, and changes each into some beast, bird, plant, or insect; but always the resultant beast or other creature corresponds in some power of mind or in some leading quality of character with the god from whose position it has fallen. In certain single cases opponents are closely matched, they are nearly equal in combat; the struggle between them is long, uncertain, and difficult. At last, when one side is triumphant, the victor says, “Hereafter you will be nothing but a ——”; and he tells what the vanquished is to be. But at this point the vanquished turns on the victor and sends his retort like a Parthian arrow, “You will be nothing but a ——”; and he declares what his enemy is to be. The metamorphosis takes place immediately on both sides, and each departs in the form which the enemy seemed to impose, but which really belonged to him.
There are cases in which the hero transforms numerous and mighty enemies indirectly through a special wish which he possesses. For example, a certain myth hero brings it about that a large company of the first people are invited to a feast, and while all are eating with great relish he slips out unnoted, walks around the house, and utters, as he goes, the magic formula: “I wish the walls of this house to be flint, the roof also.” Next moment the whole house is flint-walled, the roof is flint also. After that he says, “I wish this house to be red-hot.” It is red-hot immediately. His enemies inside are in a dreadful predicament; they rush about wildly, they roar, they look for an opening; there is none, they see no escape, they find no issue. Their heads burst from heat. Out of one head springs an owl, and flies away through the smoke-hole; out of another a buzzard, which escapes through the same place; out of the third comes a hawk, which follows the other two; out of a fourth some other bird. Thus the action continues till every head in the flint house bursts open and lets out its occupant. All fly away, and thus the whole company is metamorphosed. Each turns into that which his qualities called for, which his nature demanded; he becomes outwardly and visibly that which before he had been internally and in secret.