Anthropology 260   
Fall 2014

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 heroes, 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.”




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

Margot Edmonds & Ella Clark. Voices of the Winds: Native American Legends.

Castle Books. 2003

Aileen O’Bryan. Navaho Indian Myths. Dover. 2012 (Bureau of American Ethnology

[BAE] Bulletin 163, Smithsonian. 1956)

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

            (Buffalo Historical Society 1923)

H. R. Voth. The Traditions of the Hopi. Abela. 2010 (Field Columbian Museum. 1905)



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

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

                        one-half a grade.


Final Exam

            Wed, Dec 10 (3:30-6:30)


Office Hours


Tues/Thurs: 11:30-1:00 PM Bailey 149          245-5433

Course Outline



Section I: Axioms & Foundations: Native American cultural worlds, insights and wisdom


                        Weeks 1 - 3    (Aug 26 – Sept 11)


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

                        Patterns & themes of Native American stories and storytelling (A. C. Parker)



                                  - Sedna and the Inuit Underworld – coordinating myth, belief & ritual

                                  - Account of an Eskimo captured by a walrus becoming a shaman

                                   - Navajo chiefs’ Council consults the “Shining Sands of Prophecy”

                                    - A Hopi priest’s sacred journey to Sipapu (the Place of Emergence)

                                    - The protracted Tewa Emergence & Migration into this world

                                    - Dr. Fewkes encounters Masau’u – and embraces Hopi religion

                                    - Calling your “poisons:” a Pit River shaman and Jamie de Angulo

                                    - Maidu Creation – “just a simple Indian story:” a structural analysis


Section II: Northwest Coast Mythology: John R. Swanton, Robert Bringhurst and the Haida: resurrecting a lost universe of human mind and spirit; ethno-poetry, ethnography, translation and the wondrous value of ignoring your committee chair, even if he was Boas


                        Weeks 4 - 7                                                                            (Sept 16 – Oct 9)     


                        READING: Bringhurst, A Story as Sharp as a Knife

                                         Supplemental: Voices of the Winds, “From the Northwest”

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

                        “Raven steals the light” - and changes the world forever



MIDTERM EXAM: Thursday October 9



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


                        Weeks 8 - 11                                                                         (Oct 16-Nov 4)                                 

                        READINGS: Traditions of the Hopi + Navaho Indian Myths

                                                Supplemental: Voices of the Winds, “From the Southwest”

                        VIDEOS: “Hopi: Songs of the Fourth World” + “Seasons of the Navajo”                        
                        Cultural & Subsistence contrasts and commonalities in the 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 & 12                                                                                  (Nov 6 - 13)                          


                         READINGS: Voices of the Winds, Parts 3 & 4 (Great Plains & Central)

                         VIDEO: “Raccoon & Crawfish” (Oneida)



                        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 13-15                                                                         (Nov 18 – Dec 4)                  


                        READING: Seneca Myths and Folktales

                                         Supplemental: Voices of the Winds, Parts 5 & 6  (SE & NE)

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


                        Creation Myth Cycle [Two Worlds / Sky Woman / World Turtle]

                        Confederacy Myth Cycle [Peacemaker, Deganiweda / Hiawatha]

                        Revitalization Myth Cycle [Handsome Lake / Messengers]

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





FINAL EXAM: Wednesday, Dec 10, 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.