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HOW FIRE CAME TO THE SIX NATIONS

Often, around the fire in the long house of the Iroquois,
during the Moon of the Long Nights, this tale is told.
Three Arrows was a boy of the Mohawk tribe.
    Although he had not yet seen fourteen winters he
         was already known among the Iroquois for his skill and daring.
His arrows sped true to their mark. His name was given him
when with three bone-tipped arrows he brought down three
flying wild geese from the same flock. He could travel in
the forest as softly as the south wind
and he was a skillful hunter, but he never killed a bird
or animal unless his clan needed food. He
was well-versed in woodcraft, fleet of foot, and a
clever wrestler. His people said, 'Soon he will
be a chief like his father.' The sun shone strong in
the heart of Three Arrows, because soon he
would have to meet the test of strength and endurance
through which the boys of his clan
attained manhood. He had no fear of the outcome of the
dream fast which was so soon to take.
His father was a great chief and a good man, and the boy's life had
been patterned after that of his father.
When the grass was knee-high, Three Arrows left his village
with his father. They climbed to a
sacred place in the mountains. They found a narrow
cave at theack of a little plateau. HereThree
Arrows decided to live for his few
days of prayer and vigil. He was not permitted to eat
anything during the days and nights of his dream fast.
He had no weapons, and his only clothing
was a breechclout and moccasins. His father left the
boy with the promise that he would visit
him each day that the ceremony lasted, at dawn.
Three Arrows prayed to the Great Spirit. He begged
that soon his clan spirit would appear in a
dream and tell him what his guardian animal or bird was to be. When he knew this, he would
adopt that bird or animal as his special guardian for the rest of his life. When the dream came he
would be free to return to his people, his dream fast successfully achieved.
For five suns Three Arrows spent his days and nights on the
rocky plateau, only climbing down
to the little spring for water after each sunset. His heart
was filled with a dark cloud because that
morning his father had sadly warned him that the
next day,the sixth sun, he must return to his
village even if no dream had come to him in the night.
This meant returning to his people in
disgrace without the chance of taking another dream fast.
That night Three Arrows, weak from hunger
and weary fromceaseless watch, cried out to the
 

Great Mystery. 'O Great Spirit, have pity on him who
stands humbly before Thee. Let his clanspirit or a sign from beyond
the thunderbird
come to him before tomorrow's sunrise, if it be Thy

will.' As he prayed, the wind suddenly veered from east to north.
This cheered Three Arrows
because the wind was now the wind of the great bear,
and the bear was the totem of his clan.
When he entered the cavern he smelled for the first time
the unmistakable odor of a bear: this
was strong medicine. He crouched at the opening of the cave,
too excited to lie down although
his tired body craved rest. As he gazed out into the night
he heard the rumble of thunder, saw the
lightning flash, and felt the fierce breath of the wind
from the north. Suddenly a vision came to
him, and a gigantic bear stood beside him in the cave.
Then Three Arrows heard it say, 'Listen
well, Mohawk. Your clan spirit has heard your prayer.
Tonight you will learn a great mysterywhich will bring help and
 

gladness to all your people.' A terrible clash of thunder brought the
dazed boy to his feet as the bear disappeared. He looked from
the cave just as a streak oflightning flashed across the
sky in the
form of a blazing arrow. Was this the sign from the thunderbird ?
Suddenly the air was filled with a fearful sound. A shrill
shrieking came from the ledge just
above the cave. It sounded as though mountain lions
fought in the storm; yet Three Arrows felt
no fear as he climbed toward the ledge.
As his keen eyesgrew accustomed to the dim light he
saw that the force of the wind was causing two young balsam trees to rub violently against each
other. The strange noise was caused by friction, and as he listened and watched fear filled his
heart, for, from where the two trees rubbed together a flash of lightning showed smoke.
Fascinated, he watched until flickers of flames followed the smoke. He had never seen fire of
any kind at close range nor had any of his people. He scrambled down to the cave and covered
 

his eyes in dread of this strange magic. Then he smelt bear again and
he thought of his vision, hisclan spirit, the bear, and its message.
This was the mystery whichhe was to reveal to his people.
The blazing arrow in the sky was to be his totem,
and his new name - Blazing Arrow.
At daybreak, Blazing Arrow climbed onto the ledge
and broke two dried sticks from what
remained of one of the balsams. He rubbed
them violently together, but nothing
happened. 'The magic is too powerful for me,
' he thought.Then a picture of his clan
and village formed in his
mind, and he patiently rubbed the hot sticks together again.
His will power took the place of his
tired muscles. Soon a little wisp of smoke greeted his renewed
efforts, then came a bright spark
on one of the stick. Blazing Arrow waved it as he had
seen the fiery arrow wave in the night sky.
A resinous blister on the stick glowed, then flamed - fire had come to the Six Nations !
 
 

-- An Iroquois story, thanks to Harold Stein