Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Iroquois Creation Myth

As recorded early in the 20th century, the Iroquois creation story conceives of the world as a “floating island,” originally a sort of “cloud sea” (37), implying a certain lack of form, but not “chaos” or “void.” Animals already inhabit this cloud sea.

Various animals dive to the bottom of the waters to bring earth so that the upper realm will not fall upon them. The muskrat succeeds in bringing back some muck and they decide to have the turtle bear it on his back since it will grow and become heavy.

This inclusion of the turtle is a good example of that certain “mythological sense” these stories display — not a scientific explanation but a logical one nevertheless that at least engages the imagination and usually contains a degree of wisdom. Why does it make “mythological sense” to choose the turtle as the bearer of the earth? (How are earthquakes explained etiologically?)

Derived ultimately from the actions of the Great Ruler, this creation myth tells us that we come from the sky and also from earth. The seeming duality of existence (good and bad, convenience and annoyance, light and dark, creation and destruction) is explained in the personifications of Hah-gweh-di-yu and Hah-gweh-da-et-gah, and note that these two are brothers. Though banished “to a pit under the earth” (39), the bad brother still has operatives in the world. The good brother is an active and positive god, “continually creating and protecting” (39).


“The Creation.” The Portable North American Indian Reader. Ed. Frederick Turner. NY: Penguin Books, 1977. 36-39.


Creation Myths