The Wayward Sun

by Rand and Rose Flam-Ath

It is sunset at the camp of the tribe known as the Utes. Preparations for

the annual Sun-Dance have begun. Men and women draped in rabbit-skin robes

are drawn to the fire's glow. Dishes of simmering turtle, lizard, insects,

and generous servings of berries and seed are shared around the circle. It

is time. An elder rises and passed a lined hand over his buffalo-skin

cloak. The children are immediately alert, their eyes wide with


Listen now, on this feast of the Sun-Dance, to the Utes' myth of the taming

of the sun-god:

Once upon a time Ta-wats, the hare-god, was sitting with his family by the

camp-fire in the solemn woods, anxiously waiting for the return of Ta-va

(the wayward sun-god). Wearied with long watching, the hare-god fell

asleep, and the sun-god came so near that he scorched the naked shoulder of

Ta-wats. Foreseeing the vengeance which would be thus provoked, he fled

back to his cave beneath the earth.

Ta-wats awoke in great anger, and speedily determined to go and fight the

sun-god. After a long journey of many adventures the hare-god came to the

brink of the earth, and there watched long and patiently, till at last the

sun-god coming out he shot an arrow at his face, but the fierce heat

consumed the arrow ere it had finished its intended course; then another

was sped, but that also was consumed; and another, and another, till only

one remained in his quiver, but this was the magical arrow that had never

failed its mark.

Ta-wats, holding it in his hand, lifted the barb to his eye and baptized it

in a divine tear; then the arrow was sped and struck the sun-god full in

the face, and the sun was shivered into a thousand fragments which fell to

the earth, causing a general conflagration.

Then Ta-wats, the hare-god, fled before the destruction he had wrought, and

as he fled the burning earth consumed his feet, consumed his legs, consumed

his body, consumed his hands and his arms - all were consumed but the head

alone, which bowled across valleys and over mountains, fleeing the

destruction from the burning earth, until at last, swollen with heat, the

eyes of the god burst and the tears gushed forth in a flood which spread

over the earth and extinguished the fire.

The sun-god was now conquered, and he appeared before a council of the gods

to await sentence. In that long council were established the days and the

nights, the seasons and the years, with the length thereof and the sun was

condemned to travel across the firmament by the same trail day after day

till the end of time.

The Utes, after whom Utah was named, were among the most warlike tribes in

the American West. They fought with the Comanche, Arapaho, Kiowa, and

Cheyenne for domination over hunting grounds. Young braves were taught

when to attack, when to retreat, and when to find honour in vengeance.

These challenges were interwoven with forceful lessons about the humbling

power of nature. Tales of the hare-god's antics and the sun-god's power

were much more than exciting children's stories. The myths illustrated the

critical factors a warrior must weigh in times of battle: how the seasons

came to be, and why the sun follows its predictable path across the sky.

This cohesive view of the world was strong glue binding the tribe together.

The myth was also a reflection of the human need to create order out of

nature's chaos. The social problems of war and peace were mirrored in

nature's forces of chaos and order. Ta-wats, the hare-god, is sleeping in

the woods when the wayward sun provokes him by scorching his shoulder. He

rises and seeks revenge upon the fleeing sun-god. Eventually the sun-god

is attacked with a magic arrow and the explosive forces of nature are

released. The sun erupts and a great flood engulfs the world. Order is

restored only when a council of the gods creates predictable seasons and

condemns the sun to follow an unalterable path across the heavens until

"the end of time."

The myth of the wayward sun can also be seen as a distant echo of the last

earth crust displacement. As the ground shuddered beneath them it would

have seemed to its shocked inhabitants that the sky, sun, and stars were

tumbling from their place in the heavens. The violent earthquakes caused

by the displacement generated great tidal waves that rolled across the

ocean, smashing vulnerable coastlines. Ice caps melted, forcing the ocean

level higher and higher. For many it was the end of the world. But for

the survivors, it became the first day of a new world order.

The German-American anthropologist Franz Boas (1858-1942) traced the

mythology of the Utes to the Canadian province of British Columbia, where

the mythological trail connected the Utes with the Kutenai, and in turn the

Okanagan. The Kutenai occupy territory encompassing parts of British

Columbia, Alberta, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. Like the Utes, the

Kutenai speak of a great fire that erupted over the earth when the sun was

struck by an arrow. "Coyote is envious, and shoots the sun at sunrise.

His arrows catch fire, fall down, and set fire to the grass."

And the Kutenai speak of the fear they have that the world will come to an

end when the sky loses its stability: "The Kutenai look for Polaris [the

North Star] every night. Should it not be in place, the end of the world

is imminent."

Little is known of the origin of the Kutenai. They often have wavy hair,

light brown skin, and slight beards. Their neighbours in the plains, the

blackfoot, gave them the name Kutenai, which is a Blackfoot word for "white

men." Franz Boas believed that the Kutenai were mythologically linked with

their neighbours to the west, the Okanagan. The Okanagan called the

Kutenai by the same "skelsa'ulk," which has been translated as "water


In 1886, the famous American historian Hubert Howe Bancroft (1832-1918)

related the Okanagan myth of their lost island paradise of


Long, long ago, when the sun was young and no bigger than a star, there was

an island far off in the middle of the ocean. It was called

Samah-tumi-whoo-lah, meaning White Man's Island. On it lived a race of

giants - white giants. Their ruler was a tall white woman called Scomalt.

... She could create whatever she wished.

For many years the white giants lived at peace, but at last they quarreled

amongst themselves. Quarreling grew into war. The noise of battle was

heard, and many people were killed. Scomalt was made very, very angry ...

she drove the wicked giants to one end of the White Man's Island. When

they wee gathered together in one place, she broke off the piece of land

and pushed it into the sea. For many days the floating island drifted on

the water, tossed by waves and wind. All the people on it died except one

man and one woman. ...

Seeing that their island was about to sink they built a canoe [and] ...

after paddling for many days and nights, they came to some islands. They

steered their way through them and at last reached the mainland.

The Okanagan and the Utes feared any dramatic change in the heavens as an

ominous portent of another Great Flood. The fear that the sun might once

again wander or the sky might fall became an obsession. The Utes related

that: "Some think the sky is supported by one big cottonwood tree in the

west and another in the east; if either get rotten, it may break and the

sky would fall down, killing everybody."

And the Okanagan believed that in a time to come,

"... [the] lakes will melt the foundations of the world, and the rivers

will cut the world loose. Then it will float as the island did many suns

and snows ago. That will be the end of the world."

As we move south we encounter the Washo of western Nevada who are famous

for their decorative basketry. They lived on the eastern flank of the

Sierra Nevada Mountains. The tribe was always small, never overhunting the

earth. They ranged from a population of 900 in 1859 to just over 800 in

1980. In earlier times, their numbers may have reached 1,500. They were a

solitary people who told a tale of a time, long ago, when the mountains

shook with volcanoes and "so great was the heat of the blazing mountains

that the very stars melted and fell."

Along the Gila and Salt River valleys of Arizona live the remnants of the

A'a'tam tribe, who have been misnamed by outsiders not once, but twice.

Because one Italian explorer sailing under the Spanish flag in 1492 didn't

know where he was, the entire native population of the Americas was

christened, wrongly, "Indians." And when the early miissionaries demanded

that the A'a'tam tribe identify themselves they refused, answering in their

native tongue with the single word, "pima," meaning "no." From this

exchange a misunderstanding arose that remains to this day. The

missionaries took the "pima" response as an answer to their question rather

than a refusal to cooperate and so the tribe came to be known as the Pima.

In fact, "A'a'tam" means "people."

Part of the A'a'tam's history was carried across the centuries in an

age-old myth of a great flood that had once overwhelmed the earth. Their

tale of the flood included an event absent from the frontiersmen's Bible.

Using the symbolism of a magical baby created by an evil deity, the myth

told how the screaming child "shook the earth," catapulting the world into

the horrors of the great flood.

The A'a'tam now feared that the sky was insecure. Corrective measures were

called for and the Earth Doctor created a grey spider that spun a huge web

around the edges of the sky and earth to hold them secure. But still the

fear remained that the fragile web might break, releasing the sky and

causing the earth to tremble.

In 1849, the California Gold Rush brought white men streaming across the

Rocky Mountains to the west coast, home of the Cahto. Ten years later, the

pioneers of Mendocina County in northwestern California killed thirty-two

Cahto because they took some livestock belonging to the whites. These

thirty-two men represented more than 6 percent of the Cahto's population.

To put this tragedy in perspective, we can imagine the havoc wreaked on the

United States today if the populations of New York, Chicago, and Los

Angeles were suddenly murdered by some alien force. The Cahto never

recovered. By 1910, 90 percent of the population was dead.

The mythology of this lost culture stretched back nearly twelve thousand

years to the time of the last earth crust displacement. Through this

legacy we learn of the catapulting events in California at the time of the

Great Flood: "The sky fell. The land was not. For a very great distance

there was no land. The waters of the ocean came together. Animals of all

kinds drowned."

American native mythology identifies four westerly mountains tied to the

aftermath of a great flood. All four lie immediately west of land, and

each is 1,800 metres or higher above sea level. At the time of the Great

Flood, this land would have been the first hope for those survivors of the

lost island paradise who had travelled so far across an endless ocean.

The native people of Washington and Oregon claim that their ancestors came

in great canoes and landed on Mount Baker and Mount Jefferson. They

believed that Mount Rainier was the refuge of those who were saved after

the wicked of the earth were destroyed in a great flood. The Shasta of

northern California tell of a time when the sun fell from its normal

course. In a separate myth they tell how Mount Shasta saved their

ancestors from the Deluge.


On the opposite side of North America lies another great mountain chain,

the Appalachians. Here also, tales were told of terrifying solar changes,

massive floods, and the survivors of these catastrophes.

The lush green forests of the southern tip of the Appalachian Mountains

were once the home of the Cherokee. In the early part of the nineteenth

century, a Cherokee named Sequoya created an alphbet for writing the tribal

language. His work left a rich legacy of myths transcribed from his

people's oral tradition. In one of these myths, the flood is attributed to

the uncontrollable tears of the sun-goddess.

It was said that she hated people and cursed them with a great drought. In

desperation the Cherokee elders consulted "Little Men" (whom they regarded

as gods). They decreed that the Cherokees' only hope of survival was to

*kill the sun.* Magical snakes were prepared to deal a death blow to the

sun-goddess. But a tragic mistake was made and her daughter, the ../moon, was

struck instead:

When the Sun found her daughter dead, she went into the house and grieved,

and the people did not die any more, but now the world was dark all the

time, because the Sun would not come out.

They went again to the Little Men, and told them if they wanted the Sun to

come out again they must bring back her daughter ... [Seven men went to the

ghost country and retrieved the ../moon but on the return journey she died

again. The sun-goddess cried and wept ... ] until *her tears made a flood

upon the earth*, and the people were afraid the world would be drowned.

(italics added)

The Cherokee, like the Utes and Okanagan tribes, had a dark prophecy of how

the world would end:

The earth is a great island floating in a sea of water, and suspended at

each of the four cardinal points by a cord hanging down from the sky vault,

which is of solid rock. When the world grows old and worn out, the people

will die and the cords will break and let the earth sink into the ocean,

and all will be water *again.* (italics added)

Despite the fact that they both lived in mountain ranges, far from the

ocean, the Cherokee and Okanagan people associated the mythgoligical flood

with an island. For the Okanagan this island lay "far off in the middle of

the ocean." For the Cherokee, the myth of the "great island floating in a

sea" contains clues to this lost land: "There is another world under this,

and it is like ours in everything - animals, plants, and people - save that

the seasons are different."

There is, in fact, just such an island in the middle of the ocean with a

climate opposite to that of the northern hemisphere. The island continent

of Antarctica was partially ice-free before the last earth crust

displacement. ... Was it the drowned island of Okanagan/Cherokee mythology?

The people of Central America hold a rich mythology about the lost island

paradise and its destruction in a great flood. We will explore their

legacy later.

The people of South America also tell myths of a flood and the events

surrounding it. The Ipurinas of northwestern Brazil retain one of the most

elegant myths about the disaster:

" ... long ago the Earth was overwhelmed by a hot flood. This took place

when the sun, a cauldron of boiling water, tipped over."

Further south, after their sweeping victories in Mexico and Peru, the

Spanish conquistadors assumed that Chile would be another easy target.

Santiago, the Spanish capital, was founded in February 1541 by Pedro de

Valdiva, the first Spanish governor. Six months later the city was

destroyed by the native people of Chile, the Araucanians, who launched a

war that continued for four centuries.

Here was a tribe so valiant that they would fight for generations rather

than submit to slavery. But even these brave people trembled before a

traumatic memory: "The Flood was the result of a volcanic eruption

accompanied by a violent earthquake, and whenever there is an earthquake

the natives rush to the high mountains. They are afraid that after the

earthquake the sea may again drown the world."

Like the Araucanians, the Inca were paralyzed by the fear that any change

in the sun foretold doom. A 1555 Spanish chronicle spoke of this

trepidation: " ... [when] there is an eclipse of the sun or the ../moon the

Indians cry and groan in great perturbation, thinking that the time has

come in which the earth will perish ... "


The famous Peruvian historian, Carcilasso de la Vega, son of a Spanish

conquistador and an Inca princess, asked his Inca uncle to tell him the

story of his people's origins. How had Lake Titicaca become the source of

their civilization? The uncle explained:

... in recent times all this region which you see was covered with forests

and thickets, and the people lived like brute beasts without religion nor

government, nor towns, nor houses, without cultivating the land nor

covering their bodies ... [the sun-god sent a son and daughter to] ... give

them precepts and laws by which to live as reasonable and civilized men,

and to teach them to dwell in houses and towns, to cultivate maize and

other crops, to breed flocks, and to use the fruits of the earth as

rational beings ... "

The "gods" who brought agriculture to the vicinity of Lake Titicaca were

said to have come "out of the regions of the south" immediately "after the

deluge." In other words, agriculture was introduced to Lake Titicaca by

people who already possessed the skill but had been forced to leave their

homeland when a flood destroyed their southern land.

The word "Inca" means "Son of the Sun" and was a title originally carried

only by the Emperor. To preserve his culture from the ravages of the

conquistadors, Inca Manco II left the great capital of Cuzco in 1536 and

retreated into the daunting heights of the Andes. He took with him three

sons, each of whom would, in turn, become Inca and suffer a succession of

bloody encounters with the Spanish. Manco II chose a mountain peak

overlooking the Urubamba valley to build his palace. Pizarro, leader of

the Spanish invaders, was never able to find this secret base and its

existence intrigued those who followed him. All who tried to discover the

lost city failed.

Later, in the same century, two monks, Friar Marcos and Friar Diego, did

come tantalizingly close to lifting the veil of the hidden city. Friar

Marcos was fired with a " ... desire to seek souls where not a single

preacher had entered and where the gospel message had not been heard."

Travelling with him was a medical missionary, Friar Diego, who became

popular with the local people and favourite of the royal Inca. The two

monks had established a convent at Puquiura, near Vitcos, and were

fascinated by Inca stories of the "Virgins of the Sun" who dwelt in a

fabulous city known as "Vilcabamba the Old." This city in the mountains

was said to house great "wizards and masters of abomination."

Daily, the two monks tried to coax the Inca, who didn't always remain in

the hidden city, into revealing the location of his city. Finally, he

agreed to take them. Higher and higher they travelled, the air becoming

thinner with every step. The Inca was carried in a litter and enjoyed the

view while the monks stumbled through the thick jungle, their clumsy robes

entangling their every step. After three days they arrived at the foot of

yet another barrier of mountains that jutted even further into the sky.

For three weeks the monks preached and taught the natives who lived in a

settlement just beyond sight and sound of the mystery city. They were

forbidden to enter its enclaves for fear they would learn something of its

rites, ceremonies, and purpose. During the night, the Inca priests high in

the forbidden city conspired to corrupt the monks by sending beautiful

women to tempt them from their vows of celibacy. Friars Marcos and Diego

resisted to the end and finally concluded that they would never reach the

sacred city. It was never found by the Spanish.

In 1911, four centuries later, the American historian and explorer Hiram

Bingham (1875-1956) discovered the marvelous, haunting ruins of a lost Inca

City cradled in the summit of a mountain called Machu Picchu. He believed

that he had discovered the lost city of "Vilcabamba the Old" where the

"Virgins of the Sun" catered to the wishes of their Inca master. He

recovered a number of skeletons from Machu Picchu, which he sent to Dr.

George Eaton of Tale University. The professor concluded that among the


... there was not a single one of a robust male of the warrior type. There

are a few effeminate males who might very well have been priests, but the

large majority of the skeletons are female ...

Why did the Inca retain a settlement of young women in this mountain

retreat, Machu Picchu?

A clue might come from the U.S. Air Force and its bunker buried deep

beneath Colorado Springs. It was built as a retreat in the event of

nuclear war and a base from which to re-establish civilization. For the

Inca, the threat was not nuclear but rather a great flood. To meet this

threat, they created bases on mountains far from the ocean. If another

deluge were unleashed, a base like Machu Picchu could repopulate a drowned


In his book, "The Lost City of the Incas," Bingham described one of the

rituals performed at each winter solstice by the priests of Macho Picchu.

A mystical cord was secured by a great stone pillar to "guide" the sun

across the sky, preventing it from losing course.

This "Intihuatana" or "hitching post of the sun" may have been a

ritualistic attempt to prevent another earth crust displacement. If so,

then the mysterious appearance of solar megaliths (known as Sun Stones)

around the globe may have represented ancient attempts to secure the sun in

its new path across the sky after the Flood. A reined sun could not

release another great flood. The earth would be safe for another year.

This obsession with the stability of the sun's path is found in the

American southwest among the ruins of the Anasazi (a Navajo word meaning

"the ancient ones"). They are famed for their cliff dwellings, their

circular architecture, and other artistic achievements. Chaco Mesa in New

Mexico is the site of one of the most remarkable solar megaliths in the

world. Three slabs of stone, each weighing two tons, have been arranged so

that the light of the sun falls on a spiral petroglyph marking the summer

and winter solstices and the spring and fall equinoxes.

Discovered in 1977 by artist and amateur archaeo-astronomer Anna Sofaer,

this solar calendar has been called a "sun dagger" becaue of the pattern

the sunlight makes on the rock carvings during the summer solstice. Sofaer

called the marking a "sun dagger" but it may have actually served as the

Anasazi's equivalent of the Incas' hitching post of the sun. If so, it

would be more properly called a "solar cord," designed to prevent a wayward

sun or at least monitor the sun's path to ensure that all was in order.

The fear of a wayward sun or falling sky became a global nightmare for the

survivors of the last earth crust displacement.

For example, from 400 to 1200 A.D. the Celts occupied much of central and

western Europe. They were known as fearless warriors who " ... did not

dread earthquakes or high tides, which, indeed, they attacked with weapons;

but they feared the fall of the sky and the day when fire and water must


And in 1643, a bishop in Ireland discovered a very ancient manuscript

containing the most detailed information ever found about Germanic myths.

These myths open with the haunting prophecy of an inspired seeress: "The

sun turns black, earth sinks into the sea. The hot stars down from the

heavens are whirled. ... "

The overwhelming anxiety that earthquakes might forewhadow a worldwide

flood was suffered not just by those who dwelled on the lip of the ocean.

The Mari, who still occupy the land west of the Volga River in Russia,

believed that the earth was supported on one horn (the other had broken

before the Great Flood) of a massive bull. The bull, in turn, balanced

precariously on the back of a giant crab, which crouched on the ocean

floor. Any movement of the bull's head was thought to cause earthquakes.

The Mari lived in terror that the bull's remaining horn would snap, sending

the earth tumbling once more into the ocean. As the beast's head tipped,

throwing the earth forward, violent earthquakes would erupt. And then, as

the earth was pitched from the bull's single horn and hurtled through the

air, the sky would seem to fall. Finally, the earth would tumble into the

ocean, releasing a cataclysm of water that would drown the world.

Throughout ancient Europe giant stones were erected to honour the sun.

Stonehenge in Eilshire, England, is one of the most famous of these sites.

Like the structures in North and South America, Stonehenge may have been

built as a magical device designed to prevent another earth crust

displacement. By controloling the sun's movements, these massive stones

might ensure the safety of the world.

The horseshoe mouth of thestones is open to receive the sun's rays on the

summer solstice. The body of the horseshoe corresponds to the path of the

sun from sunrise to sunset. Each day, as spring moves towards summer, the

sun rises slightly farther north on the morning horizon. On the summer

solstice this "migration" north seems to stall. The day after the

solstice, the sun reverses its journey and begins to rise farther south

each morning. To a people ever vigilant to the dangers of a wayward sun,

any irregularity threatens catastrophe. To prevent this, the priests may

have, like their counterparts on Machu Picchu, attempted to "harness" the

sun by "tying" its rays to successive stones within the horseshoe. The

world would be safe for another year.

In Egypt, the pyramids were also precisely aligned with the rising sun on

the summer solstice. In an ancient Egyptian writing the sun-god decrees:

"I am the one who hath made the water which becomes the Great Flood ... "

The sun "is usually said to have been born on or by 'the great flood.'"

In Egyptian mythology, the world was seen as a bubble within an endless

"Primordial Abyss of Waters":

This was unlike any sea which has a surface, for here there was neither up

nor down, no distinction of side, only a limitless deep - endless, dark,

and infinite. ... it was thought that the seas, the rivers, the rain from

heaven, and the waters in the wells, and the torrents of the floods were

parts of the Primeval Waters which enveloped the world on every side.

The Egyptians feared that these Primeval Waters might eventually seep into

the world, flooding it. The pyramids, artifical mountains aligned with the

"new" path of the sun, may symbolize the mountain upon which the survivors

of the last Great Flood ultimately found refuge. The builders of these

ancient monuments may have been paying homage to the land that their

ancestors clug to after the Flood.

>From all corners of the Earth, the same story is told. The sun deviates

from its regular path. The sky falls. The earth is wrenched and torn by

earthquakes. And finally a great wave of water engulfs the globe.

Survivors of such a calamity would go to any lengths to prevent it from

happening again. They lived in an age of magic. It was natural and

necessary to construct elaborate devices to pacify the sun-god (or goddess)

and control or monitor its path.

Is it any wonder that so many ancient people have called themselves

"Children of the Sun"? It was perhaps only later that this label became

one of pride. At first it may well have been a frantic appeasement to the

violent sun-god. The sun was feared, the sky untethered, and the ocean

volatile. A wayward sun might initiate a chain of events that could

brutally shatter our world.

But why did the sky fall?