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The Story of Okteondon or ‘The Workers of Evil’

Categories : Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) , Iroquois Stories

Long ago, an old man lived alone in the forest with his grandson, Okteondon. All his family had been killed by workers of evil and the old man worried greatly about the safety of the small boy. He was so worried that he hid the boy under the root of a great elm tree which grew in front of their lodge.

One day, when the old man was out working in his corn field, he heard something. It was a song, coming from the direction of his home.

I am rising
I am rising
Grandfather hear me
I am rising

The old man dropped his basket and ran as fast as he could back to the lodge. The great elm tree had begun to tip to one side as Okteondon sang his song from beneath. With a great effort, the grandfather pushed the tree back into place.

"Grandson," he said. "you must stay where you are. Otherwise, the Eagle Women may see you and carry you away with them."

The next day the old man went again into the forest, this time gathering herbs for medicine. He had not been gone long when he heard something. It was a song, coming from the direction of his home.

I am rising
I am rising
Grandfather hear me
I am rising

The old man dropped the herbs he had picked and ran as fast as he could back to the lodge. But before he could reach it, he heard a great crash. The great elm tree had fallen. And when he reached the lodge, there was his grandson, Okteondon, sitting on the ground beside the fallen tree.

The next day Okteondon came to his grandfather, "I had a dream. I dreamt that I hunted a small bird which was black. I killed it with my bow and arrow."

"That bird," the grandfather answered. "is a chickadee. It is the first game that a boy is allowed to shoot."

Later Okteondon went out of the house with his bow and arrow. Soon he came back with a chickadee he had shot. The old man showed him how to clean the bird and cook it over a small fire Then the grandfather sang a song.

A hunter
My grandson will be a hunter
A hunter
My grandson will be a great hunter

The old man took down his bow and arrow from the place where it hung on the wall. It was black with soot, but when he cleaned it, it looked beautiful.

In the days that followed, Okteondon had other dreams and hunted other animals, each of them right for a young hunter to shoot. First he dreamed of the raccoon, then of the turkey and finally of the deer. On the day he brought home his first bear, his grandfather grew serious; the boy had become a man very quickly.

"Okteondon," the old man said "it is good you have become a hunter. Now our lives will be easier." He reached into his leather bag and took out a flute made of cedar wood. "This flute," he said, "will tell you what game to hunt and where to find it. Only a good hunter can use this flute, a hunter who truly respects the animals which must give up their lives so that we may live."

Okteondon took the flute and blew through it. The flute sang:

An elk, an elk
Okteondon will kill an elk.
He will go to the west
And there he will kill an elk

Okteondon went to the west as the flute had spoken and there he found a great elk which he killed with one shot.

Each day Okteondon played the flute and each day the flute spoke and told him what game to hunt and where to find it. One day, however, his grandfather looked very worried. "What is wrong, Grandfather?" Okteondon asked.

"Okteondon," the grandfather replied, "You have become a great hunter, but I am worried about those who do evil. You must promise me not to go to the north for there is danger in that direction."

When the next day dawned, Okteondon hunted to the east. He remembered his grandfather's words but gradually his steps led him farther and farther to the left of his path until he was heading north. He proceeded in this direction until he came to a big hollow tree.

"Perhaps," he thought, "there are raccoons in that tree." He put down his bow and arrows and began to climb. He had just reached the top of the tree and was looking down into the hollow when he heard a beautiful voice.

"Come down, Okteondon, come down from the tree. Come and sit by my side and talk to me."

Again and again the voice called and, although Okteondon knew in his heart that he shouldn't listen, he kept looking at the beautiful young woman whose words these were. Okteondon climbed down slowly.

As he sat down by the young woman, she spoke these words to him gently with a smile. "Sit close to me. You look tired. Rest your head in my lap." And Okteondon did as she said, but before he fell asleep, unbeknown to her, he tied one of his long hairs to the root of the tree.

As soon as he was asleep, the young woman leaped up, put Okteondon in a skin bag, threw the bag over her shoulder and leaped into the air. She flew only a short way, however, before Okteondon's long hair, which was tied to the root of the tree, pulled her back. 

Okteondon fell out of the bag and woke up. "What has happened?" he asked.

But the woman spoke to him again with gentle words and he soon fell asleep with his head in her lap. This time she untied his hair from the tree root before throwing him into her bag. Lifting the bag to her shoulder, she leaped up and flew through the air until she landed at the edge of a great cliff many miles away. There she opened her bag and Okteondon fell through the air landing on a narrow cliff.

Meanwhile, at the lodge of Okteondon's grandfather, the magic flute made of cedar fell from its place on the wall. Greatly worried, the grandfather picked it up. "Surely, something evil has happened to my grandson."

When Okteondon awoke, he saw that he was not alone. All around him were others who, like himself, had been deceived. Some had died and nothing was left of them but bones. Others were half dead. As he watched, great birds circled downward and attacked those who were still living.

A bird flew down and tore a piece of flesh from Okteondon's arm but he only laughed and spit upon the wound which healed immediately.

Meanwhile, at the lodge of Okteondon's grandfather, the mouthpiece of the magic flute was suddenly covered with blood. Fear filled the old man's heart. "Surely, my grandson has been wounded."

Okteondon lay upon the cliff for a long time, uncertain how he would ever escape. Then he had a dream in which a voice spoke to him. "Okteondon, when you wake, there will be a small cedar twig near you. Place that twig into the earth."

When he awoke, it was as he had been told. Near his arm was a cedar twig. He buried it carefully in the thin soil of the ledge. As he watched in amazement, a cedar tree began to grow and before long reached the top of the cliff. He thought he would climb the tree but knew he must do something else first.

He gathered around him all the bones of those who had died. Then he went to a big hickory tree which was growing on the ledge and began to push it. "Rise up and run," he shouted, "or this tree will surely fall on you."

All the bones came together and became living men once more. They were healthy and well except for a few whose bones had been mixed together. In one case a tall man had one leg which was too short, whereas another had an arm that was too long. (They say this is how cripples came to be.) Then Okteondon and the men climbed the giant cedar tree and escaped.

Meanwhile, Okteondon's grandfather began to despair for his grandson's life. Each night he heard a voice outside his door. "Grandfather, I am well. I have come home," but when the old man opened the door, he found only a fox or an owl which ran away quickly.

The men whom Okteondon rescued turned out to be his brothers and cousins killed by The Workers of Evil. His kinsmen tried to convince Okteondon to stay with them, but he refused. "No, I must go and look for my wife." And he walked again to the north.

Okteondon had not gone many miles when he came upon a lodge in front of which sat the beautiful young woman and her mother. "I have come to marry you," Okteondon said. The young woman took him aside. "You must run away from here. My mother is very evil and will surely kill you. She is the one who sent me to deceive you."

But Okteondon only laughed and returned to ask the mother if he could marry her daughter. "Yes." said the old woman. "You may marry my daughter, but you must behave in proper fashion as my son-in-law. You must promise to honour and obey me." Okteondon agreed and moved in with the old woman and his new wife. That night as they slept, the old woman began to roll around and make loud groaning noises.

"What is wrong?" Okteondon asked.

His wife answered, "You must wake my mother by striking her on the head with the corn pounder. It is the only way to wake someone who is dreaming."

Okteondon struck the old woman on the head just as his wife advised and asked. "Mother-in-law, what is wrong?"

"I dreamed," said the old woman, "that you killed the white beaver in the lake and made a feast for us."

"Is that all?" said Okteondon. "I shall do it tomorrow. Go back to sleep."

When day came, Okteondon went to the lake where the white beaver lived. The water of the lake was so poisonous it would wash the flesh away from the bones of anyone who touched it. The white beaver rose from the water and rushed toward Okteondon, but Okteondon killed it with one arrow. He grabbed it from the lake and ran back to the lodge of his mother-in-law.

The poisonous water of the lake rose up and rushed after him, but as soon as he threw the body of the white beaver at the feet of his wife's mother the water receded. "There is the white beaver," he said. "I have done as your dream foretold."

The old woman was very upset. "Okteondon, let me have the beaver's body." But Okteondon refused.

"Okteondon, let me have just the Beaver's skin." But Okteondon refused and began to cut the beaver up in preparation for cooking it.

"Okteondon, give me one piece of the beaver's meat." But Okteondon refused. He placed all the beaver, every bit of the meat, skin and bones into a pot and cooked it.

Then he opened the door of the lodge. "You whirlwinds," he called, "You Flying Heads! I invite you to come to a feast."

Immediately the lodge was filled with Flying Heads who greedily ate every bit of the white beaver. "Hah," the whirlwinds laughed, "the old woman's brother made a good stew!" Then Okteondon's mother-in-law grew very angry and chased the whirlwinds from her lodge.

That night as they slept, the old woman began to groan and roll around again. Okteondon struck her on the head with the corn pounder. "What is wrong?" he asked.

"I have dreamed," answered his mother-in-law, "that you killed the great black eagle."

"Is that all?" Okteondon answered. "I shall do it in the morning. Go back to sleep."

The next day Okteondon set out to find the black eagle which he soon located at the top of a tall tree. He fired an arrow, but the tree grew taller and the arrow missed.

"Ah," said Okteondon. "is that how it is?" Then he took another arrow from his quiver, spoke a few words to it and fired it quickly. The arrow struck the black eagle and killed it.

Okteondon carried the black eagle back home. The old woman was very upset. Again she begged him for the body but he refused. She then asked for the skin, the meat, even one feather, but he would not agree.

He placed the whole eagle in a big pot, cooked it and invited the Flying Heads in. Soon every bit of the black eagle was eaten. "Hah!" laughed the Flying Heads, "the old woman's husband made an even better meal than her brother." Okteondon's mother-in-law grew very angry and chased the Flying Heads with such fury that several of them flew right through the side of the lodge, making great holes in the bark walls.

That night as they slept, the old woman began to groan and roll around. Okteondon struck her on the head with the corn pounder. "What is wrong?" he asked.

"I have dreamed," answered his mother-in-law, "that you went into the sweat lodge."

"Is that all?" Okteondon answered. "I will do it in the morning."

The next morning they made the sweat lodge ready. The old man built a fire and Okteondon went inside. As soon as he was inside the lodge, the old woman danced around outside the lodge and sang this song.

Hot as flint
Hot as flint
Let this lodge
Be hot as flint

When she was finished, she opened the door of the sweat lodge but Okteondon stepped out, unharmed.

"Now," said Okteondon, "it is your turn to go in the lodge." The old woman went into the sweat lodge just as Okteondon told her to. Then Okteondon danced and sang this song.

Let it be flint
First red hot
Let it be flint
Then white hot

It happened as he said. The sweat lodge became red hot flint and then white hot flint. Finally, it burst open from the heat. The only thing remaining in the lodge was a screech owl which flew out, hooting mournfully. It flapped away. The evil old woman was gone.

Okteondon and his wife went to find the lodge of his grandfather.

As the old man sat before the cold fire, ashes strewn on his head as a sign of mourning, he heard a voice outside calling, "Grandfather, I am well. I have come home."

"You can't fool me," said the old man.

"Grandfather, it is Okteondon. I have returned." 

"If it is truly you, thrust your hands in through the door and let me bind them to the pole."

Okteondon did as he said. When the old man realized it was indeed his grandson, he was filled with joy. He welcomed Okteondon and his new wife with great happiness and soon after, the three of them went to the village where Okteondon's relatives were now living, those whom he had restored to life.

All of them lived long and happy lives, untroubled by the Workers of Evil.

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