Rainbow Crow Saves the World
A Lenape Myth Retold by Brenda Sutton
In the time of the ancient days, the world was green and wonderful. Then Kijiamuh Ka'ong, the Creator Who Creates by Thinking What Will Be, thought of Cold, and the Snow Spirit walked on the world. Mist and rain turned into frost and sleet. Snow covered all of the land, burying the animals in their caves and dens. All of the creatures of earth feared for their lives.
"One of us must travel to Heaven to speak with Kijiamuh Ka'ong" said wise Owl. "We must ask Creator to un-think the Snow Spirit so that the world can become warm again."
"But who amongst us should go?" asked Turtle. "I am sure that I would get to Heaven someday, but we need to act with great haste before we all freeze to death."
"No," said Owl. "You should not go. I would take the challenge myself, but my vision is only good during the night. I would lose my way in the radiance of Heaven. We need someone who is clever and smart."
Up stepped Coyote saying, "I will go. I am fast of foot, and I'm sure that once I get to Heaven, I can devise a way to make Kijiamuh Ka'ong help us."
Wise Owl shook her head. "You are swift and smart, Coyote, but you are too clever by half. Kijiamuh Ka'ong will not fall for your tricks and snares. Someone else must go."
Then Rainbow Crow fanned his feathers. Rainbow Crow was the most beautiful of all the birds, with brilliant feathers of every color and a voice that sang the sweetest songs. "I will go and ask Kijiamuh Ka'ong to help us."
It was a long and difficult journey: three days up and up through the sky, above the trees and clouds, beyond the sun and the moon and the stars. Strong winds buffeted him and tossed him end over end. There was no firm place to land and rest. Still Rainbow Crow flew and flew until, exhausted by the journey, he reached Heaven.
When he'd regained his breath, Rainbow Crow called out to the Creator. "Kijiamuh Ka'ong, help us!" But the Creator was busy thinking blueberries into being and didn't hear Rainbow Crow's call.
"Kijiamuh Ka'ong, please hear me!" But the Creator was busy thinking flint into being and didn't hear Rainbow Crow's call.
"Kijiamuh Ka'ong, Great Creator, please help us!" But the Creator was busy thinking echoes into being and didn't hear Rainbow Crow's call.
So Rainbow Crow cleared his throat and sang his most beautiful song. Kijiamuh Ka'ong stopped thinking and listened. Then, curious about what might be making this lovely sound, Creator came looking for the maker.
"I remember thinking of you," said Kijiamuh Ka'ong. "What a glorious creature you are, with your feathers of many colors and your voice so sweet. That's an enchanting song you've sung."
"I sang it just for you," said Rainbow Crow.
"Thank you," said Creator. "May I offer you a gift in exchange for your song?"
"There is only one thing I wish for," said Rainbow Crow. "The Snow Spirit covers our world with ice and snow. All of the creatures are freezing. The crops that you've created for us cannot push through the icy earth. If Snow Spirit continues to walk in the world, we will all die. Please, I ask that you un-think Snow Spirit."
Creator looked down on the world and saw that everything Rainbow Crow had said was true. "Still, once I think a thing into being, it cannot be un-thought. The snow and the ice have spirits of their own which I will not destroy."
Rainbow Crow bowed his head. "Then I will fly back to the world and tell all of the plants and creatures to prepare to die."
"Wait, little beauty," said Kijiamuh Ka'ong. "If I can think of Cold that allows the Snow Spirit to be, then I can also think of Tindeh - Fire - that can warm the world." Saying this, Creator took a large stick and put one end into the blazing hot sun. "Here, take this Fire and fly back to the world as fast as you can, Rainbow Crow. It will melt the snow and allow the crops to grow and My creatures to live."
Rainbow Crow thanked Kijiamuh Ka'ong. Then he grasped the burning stick and flew back to the Earth, his brilliant colored wings beating as hard as they could fly. On the first day he flew near the Sun, and his tail feathers caught on fire. By the time that he reached the Moon, all of his beautiful feathers were covered in black soot from the smoky fire. When he plummeted into the Sky, the smoke mixed with the clouds, stinging his eyes and choking his throat. He coughed and hacked, but the smoke smothered his gentle voice.
When Rainbow Crow finally landed back on the world, his lovely feathers were as black as coal and as dark as night. When he opened his mouth to summon the creatures, instead of the wonderful singing voice, the only sound was a rasping "Caw!"
Every creature shouted for joy as Tindeh began to melt the ice and snow. A great celebration covered the world with singing and dancing. All of the animals gave great thanks that their lives had been saved. Even the Snow Spirit rejoiced, agreeing to live on the mountain tops, and promising only to return for a season in the time of winter. Everyone was very happy.
Everyone except Rainbow Crow. He walked away from the celebration to be alone in his misery.
Crow with his black feathers "Caw! Caw! Look at me!" he cried. "I used to be beautiful with shining feathers of every color. Now I'm burned and stained with soot. Try as I might, I cannot remove this smoke and tar. And...caw! Listen to me! I used to sing the loveliest songs. Now I squawk and make an ugly noise."
A soft breeze ruffled his black feathers. When he looked up, he saw Kijiamuh Ka'ong smiling and walking towards him.
"You're not celebrating with the others, Rainbow Crow. Why don't you join in the dancing?"
"Who would dance with me now?" asked Rainbow Crow. "My lovely feathers are covered in pitch."
"Then why don't you beat the drums and sing?" said Creator.
"No one will want to listen to my voice now. Every sound that I make is like cracking rocks and tearing wood." A tear formed in Rainbow Crow's eye. Kijiamuh Ka'ong reached out and gently brushed it away.
"Do not be sad, Rainbow Crow," Creator said. "Though you do not understand, I have blessed you. From this day forward, every plant and creature will honor you for your many great sacrifices. The People will not hunt you, for I have made your flesh taste of smoke. Man will not be tempted by your black feathers and hoarse voice, so you will remain uncaged and free."
Then the Creator pointed to Rainbow Crow's black feathers. "And those who look closely will see your colored feathers." Rainbow Crow blinked his eyes and looked at his dull, black feathers. One by one, they became shiny. Inside each feather there glimmered all of the colors of the rainbow. "This will be a sign to the creatures and people of this world, reminding all who look on you of your service and the sacrifice that you made. Rainbow Crow, you have saved them all."
And so it was, and so shall it ever be.
Brenda Sutton is the publisher of Mythic Passages, Operations Director, Corporate Secretary, and Office Administrator for Mythic Imagination Institute. She is an award-winning singer/songwriter with the internationally reknown band Three Weird Sisters. She works in a support and consultant capacity for the non-profit music organization Interfilk, and maintains their website. She is freelance writer whose work has appeared in newspapers and magazines. She is also the mother of five, grandmother of two.