The Sky Tree (p. 20 in your textbook)


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The Sky Tree

(p. 20 in your textbook)

In the beginning, Earth was covered with water. In Sky Land, there were people living as they do now on Earth. In the middle of that land was the great Sky Tree. All of the food which the people in that Sky Land ate came from the great tree.
The old chief of that land lived with his wife, whose name was Aataentsic, meaning “Ancient Woman,” in their longhouse near the great tree. It came to be that the old chief became sick, and nothing could cure him. He grew weaker and weaker until it seemed he would die. Then a dream came to him, and he called Aataentsic to him.
“I have dreamed,” he said, “and in my dream I saw how I can be healed. I must be given the fruit which grows at the very top of Sky Tree. You must cut it down and bring that fruit to me.”
Aataentsic took her husband’s stone ax and went to the great tree. As soon as she struck it, it split in half and toppled over. As it fell, a hole opened in Sky Land, and the tree fell through the hole. Aataentsic returned to the place where the old chief waited.
“My husband,” she said, “when I cut the tree, it split in half and then fell through a great hole. Without the tree, there can be no life. I must follow it.”
Then, leaving her husband, she went back to the hole in Sky Land and threw herself after the great tree.
As Aataentsic fell, Turtle looked up and saw her. Immediately Turtle called together all the water animals and told them what she had seen.
“What should be done?” Turtle said.
Beaver answered her. “You are the one who saw this happen. Tell us what to do.”
“All of you must dive down,” Turtle said. “Bring up soil from the bottom, and place it on my back.”

Immediately all of the water animals began to dive down and bring up soil. Beaver, Mink, Muskrat, and Otter each brought up pawfuls of wet soil and placed the soil on Turtle’s back until they had made an island of great size. When they were through, Aataentsic settled down gently on the new Earth, and the pieces of the great tree fell beside her and took root.

—from the Huron tradition

retold by Joseph Bruchac

An archetype is a symbol, usually an image, which recurs often enough in literature to be recognizable as an element of literature. These symbols can include:

Recurring symbolic situations: An orphaned prince, a damsel in distress, descent into the underworld, etc.
Recurring themes: the inevitable nature of death, fate, or punishment; forbidden love, etc.
Recurring characters: ugly witches, womanizing men, snobs, wise men as mentors, mother figures, bullies, etc.
Symbolic colors: green as a symbol of life, blue as a symbol for water, white as a symbol of purity, red as a symbol for fire or passion, etc.
Recurring images: lion, snake, eagle, a feast or banquet, rebirth, a fall from a great height, etc.

1. An archetype in “The Sky Tree” is the archetype of a life-giving tree. What other stories can you think of that include the archetype of life-giving trees?

2. Why does Aataentsic cut down the tree in “The Sky Tree”?

3. Why does Aataentsic throw herself down the hole after the tree?

4. What is the setting of “The Sky Tree”?

5. Describe the animals in “The Sky Tree.” What is their relationship with the Huron?

6. How did Native Americans’ beliefs about nature influence this story?

7. Based on the definition of archetypes above, think of 5 additional archetypes that are present in film, music, or literature.

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