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A Myth is Good For a While

By the Non-Mythical Sergeant Frosty.


Siwash Rock, Vancouver. There is currently a debate on changing the name of the feature to Slhx̱í7lsh (not a typo), which means Standing Man in Squamish, as the name Siwash - a Chinook word derived from the French sauvage is considered inappropriate. The debate is currently ongoing. As the name is currently Siwash Rock, that is the name I'll be using. No disrespect is intended.

Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.



One thing that I have noted with a lot of Alternate History is that there can be a shortage of myths and legends that arise from both the history and geography of the world they describe. A world will develop its own legends, and if the history is changed, the legends will also be changed.

 

For example, in a world where WWI never starts, then the myth of the Angel of Mons (which reputedly provided Divine protection to the British Army during the retreat from Mons) simply won’t exist.

 

Contrariwise, if the 1984 IRA bomb in Brighton had succeeded in its aim of killing the British PM Margaret Thatcher, then the whole legacy and mythology around Thatcher will be different. She wouldn’t have had the publicity disaster of the Poll Tax nor the constant drip-drip of scandals surrounding ministers. What we would have had would have been a string of successes: the 1979 election, the Falklands Conflict, the 1983 election, defeating the NUM (the only contriversial element so far), and instigating a debate on the climate crisis as well as rescuing the British economy from the toilet. Were she cut down at this point, the what-if question that would be asked would be what might she have gone on to do? Her legacy and the myths about her would be very different.

 

And yes, since you asked, those two examples are subtle plugs for the Building Jerusalem series and Six East End Boys.

 

Myths and legends from different cultures often take different forms and have different emphases. For example, England has any number of legends about: “The Hero Who Will Return” (see The Return of King Arthur ).


So, this filler (and it is unashamed, unrepentant filler because you guys - with a few notable exceptions for which I am grateful - aren’t writing enough) article series will look at various myths and legends from around the world and presenting them to act as idea seeds.

 

To start things off, I will look at a legend I learned in Canada, specifically Vancouver. It is a legend that starts from a geological feature, the Siwash Rock in Stanley Park, Vancouver. I learned the tale at the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver. A version of the tale can be found in Legends of Vancouver, by E Pauline Johnson-Tekahionwake.

 

Curiously, despite this being very much a west coast legend, Johnson-Tekahionwake was a Mohawk from the Toronto area. Imagine my surprise when I journeyed from Toronto to Vancouver, only to learn a legend of Vancouver from someone who had herself travelled from Toronto to Vancouver. It’s a small world.

 

I digress. Of course I do.

 

The Siwash (Slhx̱í7lsh) Rock

 

It was thousands of years ago that a handsome boy chief journeyed in his canoe to the upper coast for the shy little northern girl whom he brought home as his wife. Boy though he was, the young chief had proved himself to be an excellent warrior, a fearless hunter, and an upright, courageous man among men. His tribe loved him, his enemies respected him, and the base and mean and cowardly feared him.

 

The year rolled round. Weeks merged into months, winter into spring. One glorious summer at daybreak, he awakened to her voice calling him. She stood beside him, smiling.

 

“It will be today,” she said proudly.

 

He sprang from his couch of wolf skins and looked out on the coming day. He took her very gently by the hand and led her through the tangle of wilderness down to the water’s edge where the beauty spot we moderns call Stanley Park bends about Prospect Point.

 

“I must swim,” he told her.

 

“I must swim, too,” she smiled, with the perfect understanding of two who are mates.

 

The old local custom was that the parents of a coming child must swim until their flesh is so clear and clean that a wild animal cannot scent their proximity. Only then are they fit to become parents.

 

So the two plunged into the waters of the Narrows as the grey dawn started and all the forest awoke to the life of a new day. Presently, he took her ashore and she crept away under the giant trees.

 

“I must be alone,” she said. “Come to me at sunrise. You will not find me alone then.”

 

He plunged back into the sea. He must swim, swim, swim through this hour when fatherhood was coming upon him. It was the law that he must be spotlessly clean so that his child would have the chance to live his own life clean.

 

As he swam to and fro, a canoe bearing four men headed up the Narrows. These men were giants and the stroke of their paddles made huge eddies that boiled like the seething tide.

 

“Out from our course,” they commanded as he swam.

 

He answered that he could not cease his swimming at their demand.

 

“But you shall cease,” they commanded. “We are the men of the Sagalie Tyee (God) and we command you ashore out of our way.”


Traditional canoe in Burrard Inlet.

Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.


He defied them.

 

“You dare disobey us?” they cried. “We can turn you into a fish or a tree or a stone.”

 

“I dare anything for the cleanliness and purity of my coming child. My child must be born to a spotless life.”

 

The four men were astounded. Never before had they been defied, men of the Sagalie Tyee.

 

The young chief still swam, and the four consulted. If their canoes or paddles were to touch a human, they would lose their powers. They dared not run him down.

 

While they took counsel, there floated out from the forest a faint cry. They listened and the young chief listened also. As he swam to the shore, the four finished their consultations, and the strongest and tallest of them rose and, standing erect, he stretched out his arms to the rising sun and chanted; not a curse on the young chief’s disobedience, but a promise of everlasting days and freedom from death. “You have placed your child’s future before all things, and for this the Sagalie Tyee commands us to make you forever a pattern for your tribe. You shall never die, but you shall stand through all the thousands of years to come, where all eyes can see you. You shall live, live, live as an indestructible monument to Clean Fatherhood.”

 

The young chief swam inshore; as his feet touched the line where sea and land met, he was transformed into stone.

 

Then the four men said: “His wife and child must ever be near him; they shall not die, but live instead.” And they too were turned into stone. If you look in a hollow in the woods near Siwash Rock, you will find a large rock with a smaller rock beside it. They are the bride-wife from the north, with her hour-old baby beside her

 

The tall, grey column of stone will stand forever, a monument to one man’s fidelity to a generation yet unborn.


Siwash Plaque.

Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.



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