The Search For The Middle And The Hardening Of The World
Source: Myths And Legends Of California And The Old Southwest
Zuni (New Mexico)
As it was with the first men and creatures, so it was with the world. It
was young and unripe. Earthquakes shook the world and rent it. Demons
and monsters of the under-world fled forth. Creatures became fierce,
beasts of prey, and others turned timid, becoming their quarry.
Wretchedness and hunger abounded and black magic. Fear was everywhere
among them, so the people, in dread of their precious possessions,
became wanderers, living on the seeds of grass, eaters of dead and slain things. Yet, guided by the Beloved Twain, they sought in the light and
under the pathway of the Sun, the Middle of the world, over which alone
they could find the earth at rest(1).
When the tremblings grew still for a time, the people paused at the
First of Sitting Places. Yet they were still poor and defenceless and
unskilled, and the world still moist and unstable. Demons and monsters
fled from the earth in times of shaking, and threatened wanderers.
Then the Two took counsel of each other. The Elder said the earth must
be made more stable for men and the valleys where their children rested.
If they sent down their fire bolts of thunder, aimed to all the four
regions, the earth would heave up and down, fire would, belch over the
world and burn it, floods of hot water would sweep over it, smoke would
blacken the daylight, but the earth would at last be safer for men.
So the Beloved Twain let fly the thunderbolts.
The mountains shook and trembled, the plains cracked and crackled under
the floods and fires, and the hollow places, the only refuge of men and
creatures, grew black and awful. At last thick rain fell, putting out
the fires. Then water flooded the world, cutting deep trails through the
mountains, and burying or uncovering the bodies of things and beings.
Where they huddled together and were blasted thus, their blood gushed
forth and flowed deeply, here in rivers, there in floods, for gigantic
were they. But the blood was charred and blistered and blackened by the
fires into the black rocks of the lower mesas(2). There were vast plains
of dust, ashes, and cinders, reddened like the mud of the hearth place.
Yet many places behind and between the mountain terraces were unharmed
by the fires, and even then green grew the trees and grasses and even
flowers bloomed. Then the earth became more stable, and drier, and its
lone places less fearsome since monsters of prey were changed to rock.
But ever and again the earth trembled and the people were troubled.
"Let us again seek the Middle," they said. So they travelled far
eastward to their second stopping place, the Place of Bare Mountains.
Again the world rumbled, and they travelled into a country to a place
called Where-tree-boles-stand-in-the-midst-of-waters. There they
remained long, saying, "This is the Middle." They built homes there. At
times they met people who had gone before, and thus they learned war.
And many strange things happened there, as told in speeches of the
Then when the earth groaned again, the Twain bade them go forth, and
they murmured. Many refused and perished miserably in their own homes,
as do rats in falling trees, or flies in forbidden food.
But the greater number went forward until they came to
Steam-mist-in-the-midst-of-waters. And they saw the smoke of men's
hearth fires and many houses scattered over the hills before them. When
they came nearer, they challenged the people rudely, demanding who they
were and why there, for in their last standing-place they had had touch
"We are the People of the Seed," said the men of the hearth-fires, "born
elder brothers of ye, and led of the gods."
"No," said our fathers, "we are led of the gods and we are the Seed
People . . . "
Long lived the people in the town on the sunrise slope of the mountains
of Kahluelawan, until the earth began to groan warningly again. Loath
were they to leave the place of the Kaka and the lake of their dead. But
the rumbling grew louder and the Twain Beloved called, and all together
they journeyed eastward, seeking once more the Place of the Middle. But
they grumbled amongst themselves, so when they came to a place of great
promise, they said, "Let us stay here. Perhaps it may be the Place of
So they built houses there, larger and stronger than ever before, and
more perfect, for they were strong in numbers and wiser, though yet
unperfected as men. They called the place "The Place of Sacred
Long they dwelt there, happily, but growing wiser and stronger, so that,
with their tails and dressed in the skins of animals, they saw they were
rude and ugly.
In chase or in war, they were at a disadvantage, for they met older
nations of men with whom they fought. No longer they feared the gods and
monsters, but only their own kind. So therefore the gods called a
Changed shall ye be, oh our children, "cried the Twain." Ye shall walk
straight in the pathways, clothed in garments, and without tails, that
ye may sit more straight in council, and without webs to your feet, or
talons on your hands."
So the people were arranged in procession like dancers. And the Twain
with their weapons and fires of lightning shored off the forelocks
hanging down over their faces, severed the talons, and slitted the
webbed fingers and toes. Sore was the wounding and loud cried the
foolish, when lastly the people were arranged in procession for the
razing of their tails.
But those who stood at the end of the line, shrinking farther and
farther, fled in their terror, climbing trees and high places, with loud
chatter. Wandering far, sleeping ever in tree tops, in the far-away
Summerland, they are sometimes seen of far-walkers, long of tail and
long handed, like wizened men-children.
But the people grew in strength, and became more perfect, and more than
ever went to war. They grew vain. They had reached the Place of the
Middle. They said, "Let us not wearily wander forth again even though
the earth tremble and the Twain bid us forth."
And even as they spoke, the mountain trembled and shook, though
But as the people changed, changed also were the Twain, small and
misshapen, hard-favored and unyielding of will, strong of spirit, evil
and bad. They taught the people to war, and led them far to the
At last the people neared, in the midst of the plains to the eastward,
great towns built in the heights. Great were the fields and possessions
of this people, for they knew how to command and carry the waters,
bringing new soil. And this, too, without hail or rain. So our ancients,
hungry with long wandering for new food, were the more greedy and often
It was here that the Ancient Woman of the Elder People, who carried her
heart in her rattle and was deathless of wounds in the body, led the
enemy, crying out shrilly. So it fell out ill for our fathers. For,
moreover, thunder raged and confused their warriors, rain descended and
blinded them, stretching their bow strings of sinew and quenching the
flight of their arrows as the flight of bees is quenched by the
sprinkling plume of the honey-hunter. But they devised bow strings of
yucca and the Two Little Ones sought counsel of the Sun-father who
revealed the life-secret of the Ancient Woman and the magic powers over
the under-fires of the dwellers of the mountains, so that our enemy in
the mountain town was overmastered. And because our people found in that
great town some hidden deep in the cellars, and pulled them out as rats
are pulled from a hollow cedar, and found them blackened by the fumes of
their war magic, yet wiser than the common people, they spared them and
received them into their next of kin of the Black Corn. . . .
But the tremblings and warnings still sounded, and the people searched
for the stable Middle.
Now they called a great council of men and the beasts, birds, and
insects of all kinds. After a long council it was said,
"Where is Water-skate? He has six legs, all very long. Perhaps he can
feel with them to the uttermost of the six regions, and point out the
So Water-skate was summoned. But lo! It was the Sun-father in his
likeness which appeared. And he lifted himself to the zenith and
extended his fingerfeet to all the six regions, so that they touched the
north, the great waters; the west, and the south, and the east, the
great waters; and to the northeast the waters above. and to the
southwest the waters below. But to the north his finger foot grew cold,
so he drew it in. Then gradually he settled down upon the earth and
said, "Where my heart rests, mark a spot, and build a town of the
Mid-most, for there shall be the Mid-most Place of the Earth-mother."
And his heart rested over the middle of the plain and valley of Zuni.
And when he drew in his finger-legs, lo! there were the trail-roads
leading out and in like stays of a spider's nest, into and from the
mid-most place he had covered.
Here because of their good fortune in finding the stable Middle, the
priest father called the town the Abiding-place-of-happy-fortune.
(1) The earth was flat and round, like a plate.
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