It is fascinating to compare local indigenous legends to what you already know about where you live. Almost every place in the world has an important oral or ancient history attached to it’s natural surroundings. What is even more interesting is to visit many of these places and try to imagine the intuitive connection these ancient peoples felt to their world as well. It is also interesting to note, for the Tolkien fans out there, that the characters in this northwest legend are very reminiscent of Treebeard and the Tree “Ents” his middle earth fantasy writings. Ancient legends about trees being living and breathing entites can be found in almost every culture on earth.
Many of the Indigenous tribes of the world believed (and still believe) that powerful spiritual entities live within and on top of mountains. In the Pacific Northwest this is true as well. In the 1830s, an indian guide named Sluisken guided a group of early settlers to the base of what is now known as Mount Rainier, in what is now known as Washington State. The settlers immediately wanted to summit the mountain and their guide became worried about this. The summit of Mount Rainier was believed to have a very malicious spirit in residence there, along with a lake of fire. In fact, the beliefs about this resident at the top of the mountain were so strong among local tribes that they never ventured beyond a certain point on the mountain because of it. In spite of Sluisken’s warnings, the settlers pressed on, determined to get to the mountain’s summit. Of course their guide was convinced he’d never see them alive again. Several days later, the settlers returned and Sluisken could only assume the settlers were actually returning ghosts. This story is a great example of how much power and mysticism the mountains of this region held for it’s native peoples.The volcanos of Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, Mt. Hood and others were viewed as living, breathing entities who expressed happiness, anger and even jealousy. One of the more interesting stories relating to this a legend about the ancient eruption of Mount Hood in Oregon. The area tribes believe that in ancient times, the people who lived around the mountain were as tall as trees and the tallest tree was their revered Chief. One day, the mountain became angry and began hurling rocks and lava downward onto tribe (trees) and their habitat. That night, after much distress over this situation, the great Chief had a dream. In the dream, a shapeshifter (changeling) appeared and told the Chief that he must conquer this angry mountain or his fellow trees would perish. The Chief knew what to do, and the next day he climbed to the top of Mount Hood and began throwing rocks in every direction he could to stop the attack.The mountain responded by hurling rocks back at him and downward towards the trees below. This battle went on for several days until the mountain was defeated by the Chief but not without blackening and destroying the lands below. The chief was inconsolable about the loss of the forest and died from sadness. A few members of his tribe, thankfully, had survived the onslaught by sheltering on nearby mountain peaks, but many of them starved and (remember, these are very tall trees), became smaller as a result. These are the same trees that are said to remain here, still tall but not the giants that they used to be.
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