The Worldview of the Chumash People

Chumash Cosmology

adapted from the telling of Thomas Blackburn from the notes of JP Harrington

There are three worlds: one above, one below and this one. We live in the center, on the biggest island. There are two snakes below, who, when they move cause of earthquakes. There is a being above, the Eagle of the Sky, that stretches its wings. This causes the phases of the moon. The water of the springs and streams of the middle world is the urine of frogs that live in them.

In the world above, the sun, the Eagle of the Sky, the Morning Star and Coyote of the Sky play peon. Moon is the referee and they stay up all night until dawn playing all year round. On Christmas Eve they count to six to see who has won. When Coyote of the Sky wins it will be a rainy year. There is a lot to eat. The sun stakes all the food plants and Coyote of the Sky, when he wins, opens the door so that all the good things fall to earth. When the sun wins he takes his winnings in human lives. Coyote of the sky wants to pay with the lives of old people but sometimes the sun takes a young person’s life.

The moon is an unmarried woman who lives near the sun. They have their jobs to do to light the sky. The morning star’s job is to light the dawn. The Sky Coyote is our father and the sun our uncle. None of them grow older. The sun lights the sky with a brand made of the inner bark of a sky tree that is like a cottonwood. The Sky Eagle creature stays in the same spot but when he gets tired he spreads his wings causing the phases of the moon and eclipses of the moon.

The sun is an old man and a widower who lives alone with his pets. His two daughters live with him too. The sun carries away people of this world and he and his daughters eat them at the end of the day. There are devil like creatures in the shape of men who come out when night falls. La Llorona, the weeping woman, cries in the trees. When you hear her someone is going to die. The swordfish creatures live in the sea and can throw a whale out of the water.

There once was a great flood and Spotted Woodpecker, the sun’s nephew, was the only survivor. He alighted at the top of the tallest tree and cried for his uncle to help him. The sun lowered his torch and the waters went down. Then he tossed some acorns to the woodpecker who ate them. To this day he eats acorns.

After the flood sky Coyote, Sun, Moon, the Morning Star and the great Sky Eagle decided to create man. Sky Coyote wanted their hands to be like his. Silently lizard listened and waited. They all gathered around a rock and just as Sky Coyote was going to stamp his hand down Lizard put his down. Sky Coyote wanted to kill Lizard but he scurried into a crack in the rock. the Sky Eagle and Sun approved of the lizard’s handprint and that is how we got the hands we have.

Sky Coyote wanted to toss men into a lake to make them young again but Matavenado said the earth would be too full of people so Coyote lost that argument as well. The sun was adored by the Indians and they also adored the elements earth, air, and water. Some say that the rainbow is a shadow of three elements – wind, rain and fire. The elements give the rainbow its colors. The sun had the morning and evening stars as his wives.

The souls of the dead stayed around for five days but someone who has been cremated has his soul go to the West and it doesn’t stay around. His soul goes to the west, as does the souls of babies. After 12 years the soul is reincarnated. It has been said that white people have been reincarnated with a different color and with different languages.

As the sun reemerges, the souls resurrect. The old people said that there were three lands to the west which were like purgatory, hell and heaven. There are two rocks that crashed together. Any living person who tried to pass them would be crushed but the souls of the dead passed on through. The souls of poisoners and evil people turn to stone from the neck on down and remain immobile, unable to progress. They are only able to watch as the other souls progress. Two monsters try to frighten the souls as they cross a pole. Those that fall off are those who have not drunk hallucinogenic toloache or who do not know about the old religion. They fall into the water and turn into a frog, a turtle, a snake or a fish. There are many such beings in the water.

Children were named for the month they were born in. The 12 different months all have names reflecting qualities they have. Men have qualities of the month they are born in.

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