In the coming months, I’ll be doing a significant edit on my historical fantasy Bone Arrow which was inspired by Amerindian prehistory and fables. All previous editions of Bone Arrow will no longer be available. I’ll be sharing my latest research and editing developments as the new edition of Bone Arrow progresses.
During my research into indigenous North American customs and cultures, I came across reference to the markings painted on the war horses. There are many Amerindian cultures and tribes which exist today and many more that have been lost. I acknowledge with respect, that these symbols are not exhaustive nor do they belong to a single tribe. The markings explained below will have different interpretations specific to each tribe.
The markings painted on a war horse signified aspects of the warrior’s prowess, symbols defining the number of enemy horses captured, the number of battle honors earned and wounds received in battle. Other markings like the red handprint signify a completed mission while the red handprint on the shoulder symbolizes the warrior’s oath of vengeance and the intended completion of his mission, to be interpreted as the impending death of his oath-sworn enemy. Other markings are specific to the war horse, offering protection in battle. There are several sets of markings painted around the hoof, eye and nose imbuing the war horse with increased ability to sense and see danger, to be faster and stronger.
I am often asked what motivated me to write Bone Arrow, a Fantasy novel inspired by indigenous North American folktales and legends. My inspiration behind Bone Arrow is discussed in this first post, a second post explains the historic cultural inspiration and a final post details folklore inspiration.
Bone Arrow draws on what I have always felt a firm connection to the natural world. From adolescence to when I wrote Bone Arrow in my mid-twenties, the impact of human-induced climate change and environmental damage was becoming apparent in Australia during the “Millennium drought” as the decade-long drought in the 2000s became known. In this context, I crafted a story where conflicting personalities battled for dominance and where the survival of the the natural world was paramount. This became the basic outline for Bone Arrow.
One of the earliest and most influential books I read in my adolescence was by American author Dee Brown Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee. The honest and often incredibly harrowing description of the American-Indian Wars, from the institutions of Reservations to the final surrender of Amerindian leaders in order to save their people had a profound impact on me. The historic fight begun by indigenous Amerindian leaders to preserve their culture and histories, their attempts to make American leaders understand the philosophies of their culture is a story that sadly continues today.
The influential historic indigenous writings by Amerindian leaders included Geronimo, Black Elk, Chief Joseph, Sitting Bull, Chief Seattle and Red Cloud and among many others, led me to write Bone Arrow, to incorporate the past history and present issues into a story that might inspire a present world to listen to the wisdom of the past and not repeat it.
Amerindian cultures in the Arctic regions including the Inuit, mention in folktales, the “shadow people” or the Tariaksuq and Ijiraq, elusive, shape-shifting and malevolent spirits known for kidnapping children. These spirits, often mentioned in close association, can take the form of a humanoid-caribou like the Tariaksuq, or can lack consistent physical forms like the Ijiraq. Yet both the Ijiraq and Tariaksuq are believed to kidnap children who are either stolen or led astray, and once lost, the children are kept hostage unless they convince the spirits to release them. Not only children could fall prey to these elusive spirits with adults becoming confused and easily lost while trekking.
The Ijiraq, like the Tariaksuq, are reported to have powers which make them visible only from periphery of eye sight. The frozen lands where these spirits are believed to dwell have underground pockets of hydrogen sulfide gas. This noxious gas is capable of inducing hallucinations and confusion. The combination of noxious gas in these frozen lands is thought the reason for why the Tariaksuq cannot be seen directly. These strange and temporary vision loss issues may be the result of exposure to the gases released from vents in the arctic marshes and volcanic landscape.
The anthology Coming to Light was originally published in 1996 and edited by respected academic Brian Swann. The collected literature comprise translated oral tales, songs and poems sourced from numerous Amerindian cultural traditions throughout Canada and the United States. The anthology provides an introductory note by at least one academic or respected source detailing and explaining the historical, cultural and linguistic context of each literature item and thus, allowing insight to better understand each tale. The translations are honest and, without attempted re-fashioning by the translator, each piece is has the sensation that it is told directly to the reader as if by the original orator first-hand. The literature collected within the anthology covers an immense span of style from creation mythologies and stories to cautionary fables of legendary figures and events, tales of heroes and monsters always combined with tasks and tests of moral character.
Coming to Light is an invaluable resource for academic, literature or anthropological pursuit, providing all audiences with a way to appreciate the richness of traditional Amerindian oral traditions.
Wakinyan or the Thunderbird is an important and mythological figure in many North American folktales, stories and cultural traditions.
Wakinyan is described as a giant bird, much like a raven in coloring but often with some aspects resembling an eagle. The Thunderbird of the Plains and mid-western Amerindian cultures is often associated with the months of summer while on the Northwestern coast, the mythic figure is often depicted holding a killer whale grasped in its talons. The Thunderbird is a mythic figure, inspiring many different forms of artwork and oral stories. Uniquely to the Amerindian tribes of the Northwest Coast of United States and Canada, the Thunderbird can be a symbol or totem associated with specific families or kinship ties. This is how the Thunderbird is often depicted on totem poles. The mythology and legends surrounding the Thunderbird are as different as the Amerindian tribes associated with the mythic creature. To the indigenous cultures surviving on the Plains and mid-western regions of the United States, the Thunderbird was associated with the summer storms, the giant wings of the Thunderbird caused the claps of thunder during a storm while the bright silver eyes were the source of lightning. The Thunderbird was also associated and invoked during ceremonies and dance relating to warfare.
In the nineteenth century, the Ghost Dance tradition became sacred among many indigenous North American cultures. A drum, created by the indigenous Pawnee man George Beaver in 1891, was part of the sacred Ghost Dance movement. The drum depicts the Thunderbird as a harbinger of war showing the bird descending from a storm bringing with it war and battle. Many of the tales, poems and dances about the Thunderbird associate the storm-bringing mythical being with the approach of warfare and the bringer of battle.
The wendigo legend forms a central part of tales and lore from Amerindian tradition in the forested areas of the Great Lakes in Canada and the northern United States. Despite numerous indigenous cultures inhabiting this region, the legend of the wendigo remains consistent with only two main variations. The majority of tales describe the wendigo is a giant or monstrous human-like creature associated with the harsh winters, insatiable greed, violence, murder and cannibalism.
The wendigo is reported as a giant, often several times the size of an ordinary man or the wendigo can be an evil spirit capable of possessing humans. If possessed, the individual becomes afflicted with traits associated with the wendigo, including, lying, acts of violence, murder or cannibalism.Among the Ojibwa, the wendigo lore is detailed. For example, the wendigo is an evil spirit but takes the form of a giant monster with glowing red eyes, fanged teeth and a lipless mouth. The wendigo consumes anyone who ventures into its territory. Lore states a wendigo is also capable of possessing a human, turning that individual into another wendigo. The afflicted person now enacts the traits associated with the wendigo with cannibalism, often acting without compunction and consuming those once held dear.The common and underlying theme of the wendigo legend is the damned nature of the monster. The wendigo is often described and depicted as both gluttonous but emaciated, suggesting that despite the craving for human flesh, no satiation exists once cannibalism is committed. Doubtless the legend of the wendigo serves as a ghost story and warning fable of times when harsh winters and famine were real concerns and reminding those of the desperation resorted to in acts of cannibalism.