The Iroquois Creation Story of the “Milky Way”

All indigenous cultures have “creation stories” – narratives of how the world began and how people came to inhabit it. I find it unfortunate that the modern world has lost that tradition, one that I greatly enjoy. So I asked my friend Glenn Schiffman to share this creation story, which is an excerpt from his upcoming spiritual memoir, “Moves Standing Still”.

Creation stories are, in fact, “eco-systemic,” which means they are indigenous; they arise from a specific place on the Earth. That’s why “place has meaning,” as Ram Das once said. Creation stories form the communal vision of the universe unique to the territory that shape the people who inhabit it. In my book, MOVES STANDING STILL, I describe the cosmos of a specific people (Iroquois) in a specific place (Finger Lakes.)

The following is an abbreviated version of that creation story.

Ancient One releases into Being two flowers of great beauty from the spirits who compose the Tree of Life. The first flower, a female Being, is named Mature Flowers. The second flower is a male Being. His name is Immature Flowers.

Immature Flowers does not like his name, so he takes a new name. He calls himself Elder Brother.

Mature Flowers dreams or envisions she must make the marriage loaf-of-bread and take it to Elder Brother. Long House culture is matrilineal and women pick their husbands and propose marriage.

Mature Flowers places the marriage bread before Elder Brother. In turn, he makes a pot of corn soup, which is the sign of accepting the marriage proposal.

Once married, the breath of Elder Brother impregnates Mature Flowers and as life grows in her, Elder Brother begins to weaken and the Tree of Life becomes dimmer.

Then Elder Brother has a dream, a Soul Vision. He tells all assembled spirits, “My Soul Vision must come to pass. For it to come to pass, you must guess my dream. If you do not guess it, when this baby is born, I will disappear.”

He pantomimes through dance his dream and Mature Flowers guesses it. The Tree of Life must be uprooted. Mature Flowers leans on her digging stick and the soil around the tree falls away and the tree is uprooted and laid over on its side. Today Europeans call Lying-On-Its-Side-Tree the ‘Milky Way,’ a descriptive name from the Greeks. Indigenous People of the Americas call it the Tree of Life.

Imagine if we taught our children that the great sweep of our galaxy in the night sky is literally The Tree of Life. How much more instructive is that than the descriptive Milky Way?

Anyway, when the Tree of Life fell over, it created a Hole-In-The-Sky.

Mature Flowers looked down through the Hole-In-The-Sky into the great deep blue below, and then disappeared into the hole.

Did she fall, jump, or was she pushed? Some of the storytellers say “pushed.” Most say “jumped.” I asked a group of 100 plus women to decide, and they all said, “She jumped!”

My point is, there will never be the closing of one world and opening of another without a leap into the raw unknown. And, if the mothers of a new world are not ready to make the jump, it’s possible a spiritual force will push or nudge, because a leap into the Deep Unknown is mythically inevitable. And it must be done by or happen to the female principle, because “all things are born of woman” and that includes all new worlds.

In most of the stories, as Mature Flowers falls she grabs at the soil around the tree and brings with her seeds of all plant life forms. Also in most of the stories, there is a fire beast or fire dragon. The Iroquois call it Light Traveling Constantly, because the element of fire, a spark from the union of original heat and light, is a crucial element and reality to any new world.

The fire dragon directs her to a landing spot ~ the back of a Great Turtle. Mature Flowers deposits the soil and it immediately becomes the Earth, as we know it, and it is named Turtle Island.

Other books by Glenn Schiffman: Seasons Around the Medicine Wheel (Coloring Journals for Healthy Living)The Way I Was TaughtSeasons Around the Medicine Wheel: Spring (Coloring Journals for Healthy Living)
Photo Credit:  TREE OF LIFE over Mato Tipila, Lodge of the Bears. Wally Pacholka. Source APOD

Molly Larkin

Molly Larkin is the co-author of the international best-seller "The Wind Is My Mother; The Life and Teachings of a Native American Shaman”  and other books on health. She is passionate about helping people live life to their fullest potential through her classes, healing practice and blog at

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