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Friday Feature: When a World Needs Creating

Child Turtle Hand Drum Straight

Its a joke found consistently across cultures: When something needs doing, have a woman do it.

I say “joke,” but as with most such humor, the whole reason it’s funny is that its really not funny; it’s simply true. And in our way, it’s often true in the spirit world, as well.

I’ve written at length, on any number of occasions, about the old story that many of our peoples shares (with some variation) as to how our world — that is, Turtle Island — came to be. Without recounting it in great detail, the short version is this:

When the First People emerged from the underworld into what we now consider “this world,” the animals were already here, along with the spirits, but it was covered with water. The First People could not live in it without drowning. Spirit tasked one particular being with finding a solution, and he in turn sought help from the animals. All thought to be the one to save the First People (and thus acquire glory and the favor of the spirits, too), and one by one, each failed. Finally, a very humble animal spoke up, only to be laughed at by the others: Grandmother Turtle, who they felt was too old, too slow, too humble to fulfill such a great task. But the spirit being bade them listen, and she explained that, thanks to her strong hard shell, she could hold the First People on her back, where they could live above the waterline without fear of drowning. It worked, and that is how this land came to be known as Turtle Island.

Even for indigenous traditions that do not share this origin story, Turtle often is seen to manifest with a distinctly feminine aspect. She is also often regarded as a spirit of fertility, in the broadest sense of that term; its a link that most likely comes from her association with water. She is, after all, largely a spirit of dual elements: earth and water (both of which are also, in some traditions, accorded feminine identities).

At the moment, it’s far too cold here most of the time for turtles to show themselves. They don’t hibernate, strictly speaking, but they do enter a state of lowered body activity that is often mostly indistinguishable from sleep. Those near enough to sufficient water may spend the cold months mostly underwater, or burrowed in mud; it helps them to stay war and survive until spring.

But while there may be no turtles visible in these early days of the new calendar year, its no particular leap to picture them still holding up the world. Certainly, the old stories see no contradiction between a world too underwater for humans to survive even as it was already heavily populated by all manner of animals, including those of the hoof clans and others that walk solely upon the earth. Spirit animals are capable of acts that are beyond the reach of mere humans, after all.

But in this week when the year is new and the world with it, it’s a perfect time for works made of the materials of the earth, that sing with the earth’s own heartbeat, that feature, in their artwork, she who created our own world, that of Turtle Island. These two are of similar size and design, but with varied features in the artwork that makes each distinct. With begin with the first, shown above; from its description from the Other Artists:  Drums gallery here on the site:

“Sacred Hoop” patterns accent Grandmother Turtle’s shell and water emanates from her feet on small hand drum.  Dual-sided with a twisted hide handle, the drum comes with a traditional beater and is sized for both adults and children.  Drum by Elk Good Water (Taos Pueblo); artwork by his wife, Dolly Concha (Zuni Pueblo).

$125 + shipping, handling, and insurance

The first evokes other elements of our cosmos, and our cosmologies: the orbit of the earth and the passage of time; the rain; the directions and the stars. The other, similar in overall pattern, hews a bit more closely to designs that are more traditionally regarded as belonging to the peoples of this region, and those of the Plains: shields and wheels and kiva steps. From its description in the same gallery:

Child Turtle Hand Drum Curved

Grandmother Turtle wears an ancient “kiva steps” pattern on her shell on this small dual-sided hand drum.  Perfect for either adults or children, the drum bears symbols of water and the Four Directions, and comes with a traditional beater.  Drum by Elk Good Water (Taos Pueblo); artwork by his wife, Dolly Concha (Zuni Pueblo).

$125 + shipping, handling, and insurance

These are smaller drums, easier to hold and handle, even for small hands. The turtle motifs and bright colors might seem suited to children, too, and they are . . . but make no mistake: These are powerful spirits.

We said at the outset that when something needs doing, one should have a woman do it. How much more true, then, that when a world needs creating, one should have a Grandmother do it.

~ Aji







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