Woman Who Fell from the Sky

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Woman Who Fell from the Sky


American Indian/lroquois and Huron

Alternate Names

Sky Woman, Ataensic

Appears In

Iroquois and Huron oral creation myths



Character Overview

In the mythology of the Iroquois and Huron of North America, the Woman Who Fell from the Sky is an ancient ancestor. Also known as Sky Woman or Ataensic, she plays a central role in the creation of the earth and all living things. She is also a figure of fertility who provides the first corn to people.

Major Myths

According to legend, the Woman Who Fell From the Sky lived in a world above the sky. One day she became pregnant and fell out of the sky. Some stories say that she fell while chasing a bear, while others say that the tree of life was uprooted and she tumbled through the hole left behind. As the woman fell, ducks flew beneath her to slow her descent. She landed in a vast watery place, with no land in sight. Turde arose from the water and let her rest on his back. Meanwhile, Muskrat dove beneath the water and brought up mud to form the earth. Soon after, the woman gave birth to twin sons—one good and one evil—who created all the natural features of the earth and sky. According to some stories, she gave birth to a daughter, and that woman was the mother of the twins. The good twin shaped the sky and created the sun. He also made the moon, stars, mountains, and many plants and animals. The evil twin set out to destroy his brother's creations. He created darkness to drive the sun from the sky, and made monsters, storms, and various kinds of dangerous beasts. When creation was finished, the brothers fought. The good twin won and banished his evil brother from the earth. Some stories say that the evil twin became ruler of the underworld , or land of the dead, and still tries to spread evil in the world. After the Woman Who Fell from the Sky died, her good son planted a seed in her body that grew into the first corn as a gift to the people.

The Woman Who Fell from the Sky in Context

The myth of The Woman Who Fell from the Sky reflects important elements of Iroquois beliefs. First, the myth reflects a belief in a celestial realm that resembles the world on the ground. Second, it suggests the importance of rain and corn to the Iroquois people. The character can be seen as a symbol for rain, which sustains life and is normally the only thing that falls from the sky. Corn grows from her body like a baby grows inside its mother, reflecting the belief that women are the source of fertility and growth.

Key Themes and Symbols

The Woman Who Fell from the Sky is a myth dealing primarily with fertility, or the ability to grow and sustain life. The woman is already pregnant at the beginning of the tale; the fact that she has twins adds to her representation as an instrument of fertility. Her twins then go on to create the rest of the world, which makes her the source of all life. When she dies, her body remains a source of fertility, and the first corn grows from it.

The Woman Who Fell from the Sky in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

The Woman Who Fell from the Sky remains an important part of the creation myths of several American Indian tribes. Joy Harjo, a poet and member of the Muscogee tribe, explores myth, creation, and everyday life in her collection of poems titled The Woman Who Fell from the Sky. John Bierhorst's The Woman Who Fell from the Sky: The Iroquois Story of Creation is a marvelous retelling of the creation myth, enhanced by Robert Andrew Parker's watercolor and pastel illustrations.

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

Native American myths contain abundant references to powerful women. Using your library, the Internet, or other available resources, research two or three myths of powerful women and the cultures that produced them. What are some of the characteristics of these women? What are some of the cultural beliefs among Native Americans that might have led to their portrayal of women as powerful?

SEE ALSO Creation Stories; Native American Mythology; Twins

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Woman Who Fell from the Sky

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