January 29, 2012

Glooskap and the Giant Frog

A few weeks ago I borrowed a copy of John Hanson Mitchell's 1984 book Ceremonial Time from the library. It's a fascinating book that tries to tell the history of one square mile of Littleton, Massachusetts over 15,000 years. 

Let's face it, 15,000 years is a long long time. Littleton probably only has about 300 years of written history, so Mitchell turns to some unusual methods to unearth what happened in the past. For example, at one point he encounters what he thinks may be the spirit of an ancient Paleo-Indian shaman in the woods near his house. To help him understand this experience he enlists the help of some local American Indians.

One of them, a woman named Tonupasqua, tells him several stories about Glooskap, the mighty culture hero of the New England Algonquins. I've written about Glooskap before. He's a gigantic, super-strong, ancient magician who helped make the world safe for mankind. Sometimes he's a little bit dim, but in other stories, including this one from Ceremonial Time, he's a trickster.

A state of Glooskap in Nova Scotia.

According to the story, a long long time ago when the world was young a gigantic frog lived in New England. He was quite greedy, and built a huge dam to contain all the water in one enormous lake. This lake flooded the land where the humans lived, but they were powerless against the gigantic frog.

Unfortunately, the frog wasn't the only monster people had to deal with. There was also a giant bear whose favorite meal was human flesh.

The humans asked Glooskap to help them with these monsters. Glooskap tried several times to fight the frog, but whenever he got near it it would hide in the lake.

One day while it was sitting underwater the frog devised a sinister plan. Glooskap lived nearby in a large cave - why not hide at the back of Glooskap's cave and eat him when he came home? So it hopped out of the lake and hid at the back of the dark cave.

Glooskap came home from hunting, but hesitated outside his cave. He could sense something was wrong.

"Cave, are you glad to see me?" he said.

The frog said nothing.

Glooskap said, "Magic cave, are you glad to see me? Every evening when I return home you greet me. If you don't greet me I'll know something's wrong."

This was, of course, a lie. His cave never said anything, but the frog didn't know this. Pretending to be a magic cave, the frog croaked out, "Welcome home Glooskap!"

His suspicions confirmed, Glooskap quickly rolled a giant boulder across the entrance and trapped the frog inside.

At this point, the monstrously huge man-eating bear came strolling along. It said, "What's in the cave, Glooskap?"

Glooskap said, "Sweet, tasty humans who are hiding from you. I'll roll back this boulder so you can go inside and eat them. Sound good?"

The bear thought this did indeed sound good, so Glooskap rolled back the boulder.

The bear stuck his head in the cave, and the frog immediately shot out his giant sticky tongue and pulled the bear into the darkness. As the two giant animals began to fight Glooskap once again rolled the boulder across the entrance.

The bear and the frog fought for a long time. They fought so hard that the earth shook violently, which caused the frog's dam burst, releasing all the trapped waters. Finally, the two giant animals died, each mortally wounded in the battle.

When Glooskap told the humans what had happened they rejoiced, and the land once covered by water became fertile land where they could garden and hunt without fear of the giant bear.

There are several different versions of this myth, but I like this one. It definitely provides a different perspective on our landscape! 

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