Anthropology 260   
Fall 2015

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

Franc J. Newcomb. Navajo Folk Tales. University of New Mexico Press. 1995

Arthur C. Parker. Skunny Wundy. Syracuse University Press. 1994 (1926)

William Shipley. The Maidu Indian Myths and Stories from Hanc’ibyjim. Heyday. 1991




            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.


Final Exam


            Friday, Dec 18 (8:00-11:00)


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 - 2    (Sept 1 - 10)


                        READING: Voices of the Winds (selections from Part One - TBA)


                        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: NW Coast Mythology: John R. Swanton, Robert Bringhurst & the Haida

Resurrecting a lost universe of mind and spirit...

Ethno-poetry, ethnography, and translation

The wondrous value of ignoring your committee chair, even if he is Franz Boas


            Weeks 3 - 6    (Sept 15 – Oct 8)     


                        READING: Bringhurst, A Story as Sharp as a Knife (all)

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

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




Section III: California Indians: Roland B. Dixon and the Maidu


            Weeks 7 & 8 (Oct 15-22)


                        READING: Shipley, The Maidu Indian Myths and Stories (thru pg. 116)

                        VIDEO: “Acorns: the Staple Food of the California Indians” (28 min)



MIDTERM EXAM: Tues. Oct. 27




Section IV: The Southwest: Myth & Folktale Styles of the Pueblo and Navajo


                        Weeks 9 - 11                                                                         (Oct 29-Nov 12)                               

                        READINGS: Newcomb, Navaho Indian Myths (all)

                                                Voices of the Winds, “From the Southwest,” (Part Two, TBA)

                        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 & folktales





Section V: Tricksters plus Monsters & Monster Slayers: SW, NE and Elsewhere  



                        Week 12                                                                                 (Nov 17 & 18)          



                        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 VI: Northeast Woodlands: Folklore + Grand Myth Cycle of the Iroquois


                        Weeks 13-15                                                                         (Nov 25 – Dec 10)               


                        READING: Parker, Skunny Wundy (all)

                                         Voices of the Winds, Parts 4, 5 & 6 (Prairies, SE & NE - TBA)

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


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

                        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: Friday, Dec 18 (8:00-11:00)