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Learning Activity

Myths of Origin

 

Art Form
Poetry, Story
Multi-Disciplines
Science, Art, Language Arts, Social Studies
Grade Levels
2-8
You will need
Writing materials, possibly drawing
Time
One hour

Overview

This activity asks stidents to create a myth of origin, using their imaginations to make the myth fit the subject of the myth. Myth is our oldest kind of poem or story.

Note: Myth needs to be presented here as higher truth, not as a primitive explanation of what unsophisticated people do not understand. All cultures have origin myths, which they all tell or re-enact on certain holidays.

The goal is to write a poem or short prose piece showing the moment of creation, the origin, of the first _________ .
It can be done with animals, a subset of animals, flowers, aspects of the weather, any natural creature, thing or power.

We emphasize natural because what seems to make this exercise work so well with kids is its antiquity —their sense, developed through discussion, that they are stepping into an ancient stream of human thinking and feeling, one that has been going on since humans have existed.

Introduction

Discuss: Ask kids to imagine human beings sitting around a campfire after eating, 100,000 years ago. They are talking, telling stories. Ask what kind of story are they telling? Or start by asking how these old time people made a living? What did they eat?

Assume the adults are telling stories to the children. Ask why would adults do that? Why have they always done that? It must be a powerful thing to do if it’s been going on since Homo sapiens was born.


Origin myths offer familiar patterns to kids.

• One pattern is the familiar “How the Zebra got its stripes” tale, or How Elephant Got its trunk.
• Another pattern is “Why the Dove is sad.”


Ask students to imagine writing a story about the birth of the very first polar bear. Think about cold, snow, whiteness, the black of polar bear’s claws and eyes, his strength and his hunting skill.

Mention omens, unusual events that signal that something powerful is about to happen.

• When Julius Caesar was born, the story was that earthquakes struck Rome, and a comet blazed in the sky.
• In myths and hero stories, Nature itself responds to the power of the story’s subject.

Now back to the polar bear.

• What kind of weather would there be just before the first polar bear’s appearance on earth? A blizzard? A storm?
• Where did Polar Bear get his white color?
• What forces of Nature might have been Polar Bear’s parents? Remember, Bear’s parents cannot be other bears.

Here is a poem by 3rd grader Rose Giltzow, written right after these questions:

THE STORM

In Outer Space there is a storm
as light twists and turns.
All of a sudden lightning breaks—
that’s when I fall down.
A waterfall of snow sprinkles me.
Soon I know what I am,
with claws as dark as a black hole,
I am Polar Bear, brave and strong.

Activity

Most people have special feeelings for certain kinds of animals.

Ask: Think of a kind of animal (mammal, reptile, bird, amphibian, insect, worm, ertc.) that you feel a special kinship with. Some creature you feel connected to.

The animal may be

• a grass-eater,
• a meat-eater
• a day creature
• a night creature
• a dusk or dawn creature
• a land creature
• a water creature
• creature of the air


Note: Remind students that myths take place in the Before Time, before human beings were here. Ask writers to not use domestic pets, because humans were not here yet.

What is special about your animal?

What qualities does that crieature have that you like or admire?

Now think about how you could make up an origin story for this animal.

• How was the first one born?
• How did it come into existence?
• Where was that?
• Where did the animal get its powers?
• Who or what force or powers were its Mother and Father?

• The poem should be accurate. Whatever is said ought to feel true,
and ought to fit that creature.

• The poem or story should not be a report, even though it may contain factual information about the animal.

The piece may be first person (I am Cheetah!) or third person (he,she it).

One way to build power is to repeat lines and patterns of lines:
For example:


• I took my teeth from…
• I took my cunning from…
• I took my fur from…

Another useful pattern works like this:

 

What Am I?

Before I was born, there was no joy in the oceans.
Before I was born there were no smiles.
Before I was born, no one chased sharks.

After my birth, the oceans splashed with laughter,
After my birth, play was invented.
After my birth, everything swam faster.

Focus on the moment of creation. Stretch the imagination

The name of the creature should not be immediately apparent to the reader. (Don’t call it The Birth of the First Whatever)


Teachers: Reading examples is absolutely necessary to the success of this activity. Students quickly internalize patterns and see possibilities. Stories always build on older stories. Different intelligences are attracted by different pattens, so read a variety of examples, or copy and print a set for the class to read.

Extensions

1) As appropriate, combine or precede this activity with research on an interesting animal which then becomes the subject of myth.

2) For interested students, convert the poem/myth into a graphic story.

3) Turn selected myths the class writes into drama. Use a Narrator to read the Myth while others act out what is happening. This could be a production, but it can easily be improvisational, a kind of play.

 

Student Source Sheets Myths of Origin

Myth is a commonly mis-used word. Sometimes people use it to mean a kind of lie., or untruth. Wrong!

In reality, myths are a people’s stories of how things came to exist, how the world got started, and how those people got started.
Myths are often full of supernatural beings and heroes and generally impossible things. But myths are often true.
What myths teach us about people and the earth can be a kind of higher truth. Facts alone do not always let you know the truth about things.
Myths come from the World of What If…

Examples by Kids

Poem of Origin

Thunder crashed!
Space had become restless.
Boulders of ash smashed together.
Suddenly the ash boulders fell,
crashing to earth.
They crashed into the ocean,
splitting the ash
to reveal
the dashing Piranha.
But he had no way to kill.
Lightning struck his mouth,
giving him teeth in its shape.

—Tom Johnstone, gr 3


I COULD CHANGE ALL THAT

Before I came
deer were fat and lazy,
Before I came
the mountains were tall and lonely,
Before I came
caves were dark and damp.
When I arrived
I was rolling in the mountain sand.
From it I took my color.
I awoke
seeing the tall lonely mountains
and the damp cave beside me
and the lazy deer by the river.
And I was surprised,
I knew
I would change all that,
I knew my name:
Cougar.

—Darrick Haugan, gr 4

THE FIRST

Before I was born,
the rocks fell
a second slower than now.
Before I was born,
the moon was always in the sky.
Before I was born,
the world never turned.
My father was the Wind, and
when I was born,
the first thing I knew was my name:
Cheetah.
After I came,
the rocks fell faster,
After I came,
the sun moved and daytime became,
and Earth turned.

—Tim Ackerman, gr 3

THE PENGUIN CAME

As the Great Snow Spirit
sat hopelessly there,
Her lengthy tar hair poured
out from her head,
Brushed her creation,
and rested a moment

She was alone
… so alone

And as she despaired,
glass fell from her eye
And landed where
black and white met.
The glass grew larger and larger,
until it could no more.

And there her new friend stood
in the shape of her tear.

—Jane Maschka, gr, 8

HOW THE CAT GOT TO PURR

On an Earth with only cats,
the cats had no voices.
One day it started to snow.
One cat left her mouth open,
And a soft snowflake
fell into her mouth.
Something came out.
A soft Purrrr came out
of the cat’s mouth.
Then the other cats
opened their mouths.
They waited.
Then they all started
Purrrrring.

—Jennifer Jones , gr. 1

ORIGIN

Before I was born
the dirt was utterly alone.
When I came to the world
the dirt made a friend.
I am the Worm.


—Jyhneyce Wright, gr.4

 

 


FIRST AND SECOND BIRTH

It was first born
as a rock on the moon.
The rock got softer
and softer until
it was so soft and so light
the wind picked it up
and brought it down
to Earth.
The rock broke open,
and there was Owl.

—Nathan Bowe, gr 4

ORIGIN

Big rocks collide and shake me toward life.
Giants walking move me farther.
Great tidal waves
crash to the ocean floor,
which raises me farther.
All of a sudden I hear a crack!
It is an earthquake, I can see Life!
A rainbow shoots down toward me,
it wraps around me and pulls me up.
I am Alive! I look at myself:
The rainbow has colored me red.
I look around: One by one,
the giants disappear,
Trees grow, plants grow, berries grow,
Rainbows dance around.
I am the son of wind and water.
I am cunning and swift.
I am Alive! I am the Fox of Red.

—Corryn Trask, gr 4

 

HOW THE MONKEY GOT ITS VOICE

Music, the first music.
It was played on coconuts
by wind in trees,
it swung in the trees,
it was funny, yet
the music was smart
the way it was played.
The music created a form,
a small form, a hairy form.
It monkeyed around,
swung in the trees.
The smart and funny music
went inside the form.
Strange sounds came out,
they were the voice
of the first monkey.

—David Korus, gr 3

ALONE

I found myself lying in the sand.
I slithered to my father,
King of Diamond Shadows.
I was a diamond snake,
I followed the footprints of him.

King of Diamond Shadows
was angry at himself.
He threw a handful of broken bones.
They stuck to the end of my tail.
It rattled.
King of Diamond Shadows
named me Diamondbacked Rattler.

A mouse ran across the sand.
I tried to catch it, I had no way.
Father gave me a poisonous substance
called venom, then
sank through the sand,
leaving me alone.

—Shelly Skerrick, gr 4

TIGER’S SON

As I awoke from being born,
I stood tall,
looking up at my father.
He looked down at me and roared,
“Too small!”
Tiger my roaring father
locked me in his jaws,
threw me into the air
with all his might.
I started falling,
falling, falling until
a cloud broke my fall.
I stood,
and the cloud whispered,
“You are part of me now,
and now you will be
the Leopard called Snow.”

—Kent Johnson, gr 5

ELEPHANT POEM

Before I was born
the ground never shook,
But now when I step
the ground rumbles,
But now,
like a gunshot’s echo,
I am almost extinct.

—Ben Polzak, 3

STRANGE BUT TRUE

Once a long time ago, two voyageurs hunted a bear. They took awhile to kill it, but they did succeed. It started to storm, but they kept working. They threw some fur in a clay pot. Then, by accident, two acorns fell into the pot. Then a crash of lightning hit the pot! Some clay zoomed to the fur, so did the acorns. The clay went inside the fur and the fur stuck together because of the lightning.

The voyageurs stared at the thing climbing up the tree. Electricity is its brain, Squirrel is its name.

—Brody Geist, gr 3

CREATURE

Once there was a grizzly, a skunk, a coyote and a squirrel, all stuck together in a pit trap. They stayed there for weeks, struggling to get out. The bear dug a huge hole, trying to get out. He pulled all of them into it. They all died a week later.
The mud and dust of all four animals mixed together.After awhile, the mud and dust formed a creature.
The grizzly gave the new creature its claws and teeth. The skunk gave it a stripe down the back. The coyote gave it a gray brown color, and the squirrel gave it a bushy tail.
The creature was hungry. It already knew it didn’t like plants. It went out to a prairie. It started digging. It came to a hole. In the hole was a prairie dog. The prairie dog squealed, “BADGER!” Now we all call this creature a badger.

—Genevieve Browne, gr 4

 

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