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Native American Legends: Sky Woman (Ataensic, Atahensic, Ataentsic)

Name: Sky Woman
Tribal affiliation: Iroquois, Huron
Native names: Ataensic, Ata-en-sic, Ataentsic, Atahensic, Ataensiq, Aataentsic, Athensic, Ataensie, Eataentsic, Eyatahentsik, Iaataientsik, Yatahentshi; Iotsitsisonh, Iotsitsisen, Iottsitison, Iottsitíson, Atsi'tsiaka:ion, Atsi'tsiakaion, Ajinjagaayonh; Iagen'tci, Iagentci, Eagentci, Yekëhtsi, Yagentci; Awenhai, Awenha'i, Awenha:ih; Wa'tewatsitsiané:kare; Aientsik, Aentsik
Also known as: Grandmother Moon, the Woman who Fell from the Sky
Type: Mother goddess, sky spirit, first woman
Related figures in other tribes: Nokomis (Anishinabe), Our Grandmother (Shawnee)

Sky Woman is the Iroquois mother goddess, who descended to earth by falling through a hole in the sky. She was a celestial being who was cast out of the heavens either for violating a taboo or through her jealous husband's treachery; waterbirds carried her down to the sea and set her on the back of a turtle, which became her home (Turtle Island.) Sky Woman is either the grandmother or the mother (depending on the version) of the twin culture heroes Sky-Holder and Flint, sometimes known as Good Spirit and Bad Spirit.

Myths about Sky Woman vary enormously from community to community. In some Iroquois myths Sky Woman is a minor character who dies in childbirth immediately upon reaching the earth, while in others, she is the central character of the entire creation saga. In some myths Sky Woman is the mother of the twins, but more commonly she is the mother of a daughter, Tekawerahkwa or Breath of the Wind, who in turn gives birth to the twins. In some Iroquois traditions the twins represent good and evil, while in others, neither twin is evil, but Flint represents destruction, death, night, and winter to Sky-Holder's creation, life, day, and summer. In many versions of the myth Sky Woman favored Flint, usually because Flint has deceived her into thinking Sky-Holder killed Tekawerahkwa, but sometimes because Sky Woman herself disapproved of Sky-Holder's human creations and their ways. In other versions Sky Woman supported both of her grandchildren equally, declaring that there must be both life and death in the world. Sky Woman is associated with the moon by many Iroquois people. In some traditions, Sky Woman turned into the moon; in others, Sky-Holder turned her body into the sun, moon, and stars after her death; and in still others, it was Sky Woman herself who created the sun, moon, and stars.

Sky Woman goes by many different names in Iroquois mythology. The name "Sky Woman" itself is a title, not her name-- she is a Sky Woman because she is one of the Sky People, Karionake. Her own name is variously given as Ataensic (a Huron name probably meaning "ancient body,") Iagentci (a Seneca name meaning "ancient woman,") Iotsitsisonh or Atsi'tsiaka:ion (Mohawk names meaning "fertile flower" and "mature flower,") Awenhai (a Cayuga and Seneca name also meaning "mature flower,") and Aentsik (probably an Iroquois borrowing from Huron.) She is sometimes also referred to as Grandmother or Grandmother Moon.

Sky Woman Stories

* Three versions of the Iroquois Creation Story:
    A comparison of three Iroquois myths about Sky Woman and her grandsons.
*Haudenosaunee Creation Story * Sky Woman:
    Iroquois stories about Sky Woman and the origin of the Haudenosaunee tribes.
*The Birth of Good and Evil:
    Oneida myth about Sky Woman's twin grandchildren.
*Iroquois Creation Myth:
    A Cayuga version of Sky Woman's descent to earth.
*Aientsik the Skywoman:
    Mohawk legend about Sky Woman and her family.
*The Woman Who Fell From the Sky:
    The Seneca myth of Sky Woman, her daughter and grandsons.
*Iroquoian Cosmogony:
    A version of the Onondaga creation myth in which Ataensic favors her grandson Flint.
*Huron Creation Myth:
    A Huron version of the myth in which Sky Woman dies in childbirth.

Sponsored Links

Recommended Books of Related Native American Legends

Skywoman: Legends of the Iroquois:
    A wonderful collection of legends about Sky Woman and the Creation, by two Iroquois authors.
Sky Woman and the Big Turtle: * The Woman Who Fell from the Sky:
    Children's picture books telling the story of Sky Woman.
The Oneida Creation Story:
    Several versions of the Oneida myth of creation, with extensive discussion about Sky Woman and her family.
Legends, Traditions and Laws of the Iroquois:
    Collection of Iroquois legends and oral history told by a Tuscarora chief.

Additional Resources

 People of the Longhouse
 Iroquois gods
 Iroquois Confederacy
 Mohawk language
 Oneida language
 Cayuga language
 New York American Indians
 Eastern Woodland Native Americans
 The Iroquoians



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