Wonderful Myth from the Catskill Mountains

When re-reading the Washington Irving story, Rip Van Winkle, for my book club’s annual ‘Short Story Month,’ I serendipitously came upon the following myth in a post-script to the on-line copy of the story I happened to read:

“The Kaatsberg, or Catskill Mountains, have always been a region full of fable. The Indians considered them the abode of spirits, who influenced the weather, spreading sunshine or clouds over the landscape, and sending good or bad hunting seasons. They were ruled by an old squaw spirit, said to be their mother. She dwelt on the highest peak of the Catskills, and had charge of the doors of day and night to open and shut them at the proper hour. She hung up the new moon in the skies, and cut up the old ones into stars. In times of drought, if properly propitiated, she would spin light summer clouds out of cobwebs and morning dew, and send them off from the crest of the mountain, flake after flake, like flakes of carded cotton, to float in the air; until, dissolved by the heat of the sun, they would fall in gentle showers, causing the grass to spring, the fruits to ripen, and the corn to grow an inch an hour. If displeased, however, she would brew up clouds black as ink, sitting in the midst of them like a bottle-bellied spider in the midst of its web; and when these clouds broke, woe betide the valleys!”

I love this!  Especially how the old squaw spirit “hung up the new moon” and ‘cut up the old ones into stars.”  What a wonderful image.

Below: Thomas Doughty’s “In the Catskills’  (I suspect the height of the mountains is somewhat exaggerated…)

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