Anthropology 260   
Fall 2012

Dr. Judkins



Myths and Folktales of Native North America



Included in this course is a survey of traditional, recent and contemporary American Indian and Eskimo folktales, myths, legends and lore.  The course program is based upon extensive description and substantial reading of source materials.  The emphasis is on North American cultures, with secondary reference to parallels and influences from Mesoamerican civilizations upon Native American cultures north of the Rio Grande.  The course also teaches the necessary background knowledge of anthropology, such as Native North American culture areas, the art and practice of ethnography, and the nature and intellectual power of the concept of culture.  Major topics include the following: cosmology, creation myths, the problem of evil, migration legends, trickster tales, nature lore, tales of monsters and heros, Orpheus stories, tales of terror, and culture-area specific folklore such as the Sedna myths of the Inuit and the Windigo stories of the eastern sub-arctic.  In addition, the course considers the role of oral literature in the cultures of Native North America and explores the analysis and understanding of myths and folktales in their cultural settings, including the relationships of myth and ritual.  The student will come to appreciate the power and depth of the modern anthropological concept of “symbol.”





Michael Bastine & Mason Winfield. Iroquois Supernatural. Bear & Co. 2011

Robert Bringhurst.  A Story as Sharp as a Knife. Douglas McIntyre. 2011

George Bird Grinnell. Blackfoot Lodge Tales. Bison Books, U. of Nebraska. 1962 [1892]

Basil Johnston. The Manitous: the Spiritual World of the Ojibway. Harpercollins. 1995

Franc J. Newcomb & Paul Zolb. Navajo Folktales. U. of New Mexico. 1990

Arthur C. Parker. Seneca Myths and Folk Tales. Bison Books, U. of Nebraska. 1989

Bill Reid, R. Bringhurst, Levi-Strauss. Raven Steals the Light. Douglas McIntyre. 1996

Frank Waters. Book of the Hopi. Penguin. 1977



Mid-term plus Final Exam (each counting one-half of the Final Grade).

NB: Class participation counts significantly in determining the Final Grade, up to

one-half a grade.


Office Hours


Tues/Thurs: 11:30-1:00 PM  Sturges 15 /// /// 245-5433

Course Outline



Section I: Things you didn’t know – or even guess - about what Native Americans know


Weeks 1 - 3 (Aug 28-Sept 13)


READINGS: Bastine & Winfield, Iroquois Supernatural

Reid & Bringhurst, Raven Steals the Light

Handout: Types, classes, and character of oral literature


Guest Lecture: “…”

[an appreciation of Native American spiritual/occult knowledge]



- Sedna and the Inuit Underworld

- A Hopi priest’s journey to the Place of Emergence

- Jamie de Angulo learns shamanism from a Pit River doctor

- Raven (Trickster/Creator) steals the light (and more)


Culture areas of Native North America (A. L. Kroeber)

Basic patterns of Native American stories and storytelling (A. C. Parker)



Section II: Northwest Coast Mythology: John R. Swanton, Robert Bringhurst and the Haida


Weeks 4 - 6 (Sept 18 – Oct 4)


READING: Bringhurst, A Story as Sharp as a Knife

VIDEOS: “The Loon’s Necklace” + “Franz Boas”



MIDTERM EXAM: Thursday October 11  [Week 7]




Section III: Southwestern Myth & Folktale Styles: Pueblo and Navajo


Weeks 8 - 10 (Oct 16 – Nov 1)

READINGS: Book of the Hopi + Navajo Folktales

VIDEOS: “Hopi: Songs of the Fouth World” + “Seasons of the Navajo”


Contrasts and commonalities in subsistence and social organization of

Pueblo groups and Apachean (Navajo and Apache) in American SW

Convergence of cultural themes in the American Southwest

Navajo/Dene [Athabaskan] vs. Pueblo [Uto-Aztecan] myths and folk tales




Section IV: Tricksters plus Monsters & Monster Slayers: Southwest and Elsewhere


Weeks 11 - 13 (Nov 6 - 22)


 READINGS: Blackfoot Lodge Tales + The Manitous



Tricksters: a general theory

- Tricksters and Creation: Northwest Coast

- Trickster, Coyote, Old Man, Raven: the whole tribe of tricksters

- Tricksters and who really gets “tricked”

- General theory: Paul Radin, The Trickster (Winnebago)

Monsters & Monster Slayers: a general theory

- Case study #1: Monsters of the Southwest: Pueblo and Navajo

- Case study #2: Monsters of the Northeast Woodlands: Iroquoian

- Case study #3: Monsters of the North American Subarctic: Windigo



Section V: Northeast Woodlands: Grand Myth Cycle of the Iroquois


Weeks 14 & 15 (Nov 27 – Dec 6)


READING: Seneca Myths and Folktales

VIDEOS: “Longhouse People” + “Oren Lyons, Faithkeeper”


Creation Myth Cycle [Two Worlds / Sky Woman]

Confederacy Myth Cycle [Peacemaker / Deganiweda]

Revitalization Myth Cycle [Handsome Lake / Three Messengers]

End of the World Prophecy Cycle [Serpent(s), Boy and Bow]






FINAL EXAM: Monday, Dec 17, 3:30-6:30 PM






Anthropology 260 fulfills the M/ (Multicultural) requirement for the SUNY College at Geneseo.





Exposure of the student to a broad, representative sample of traditional Native American oral lore, following both topic forms and culture area distribution of selections.  The student will learn the major topics or themes in Native American oral literature in general, as well as learn the specific characteristics of this same literature by culture area.  Alternative forms of analysis of myth and folklore will be learned.






The student will demonstrate knowledge of the types of lore, and their cultural and geographic distribution by performance on the mid-term and final examinations.


The student will demonstrate competence in analysis of lore in the required paper, which will be presented before the class and discussed and defended, as well as submitted in written form.