The Twins

by Richard L. Dieterle


The Twins are the famous "Children of the Sun."1 Although in one story they are said to be the sons of Fire, it is reasonable to suppose that it is the Celestial Fire that is meant.2 Their mother is Moon.3 Moon's brother, the maternal uncle of the Twins, is Bluehorn, a Waterspirit.4 He is also the Red Star, the name given to the Evening Star by the Hočągara.5 As is appropriate in the Hočąk avunculate, the Twins have a fanatic devotion to their uncle. They also resemble him: just as his arms are covered with flint knives, so too are their own.6 Essential to their nature, however, is the fact that they are children. They remain children for eternity. Although the Twins are born at the same time and have essentially the same appearance, they are not precisely identical. The first born, who is known as "Flesh" (Waroka), is a bit larger than his younger brother. The younger Twin is known as "(Little) Ghost" or "Stump." Although he is smaller in stature, he is quite clearly the dominant of the two boys. Ghost also has broad teeth like those of a beaver.7 In Jasper Blowsnake's Twin Cycle, Ghost even describes his own teeth as "beaver teeth."8 Their names express the esoteric dichotomy of body and soul.

The beginning of the Twins does not start with their birth. They are created first as spirits. Their genesis arose from a crisis among the Great Spirits, one of whose number had been set upon by the chief of the evil spirits, Herešgúnina. Red Star and his sister Moon had been living by themselves in the wilderness as human beings, when one day, while Red Star was absent hunting, someone who looked exactly like him showed up at the lodge. The sister thought it was Red Star himself. However, the visitor constantly teased her beyond the bounds of propriety, until it was arranged that Red Star and his doppelgänger meet. They engaged in a game sitting on opposite sides of the fire. One would take a pipe and suck in air causing the other to be drawn towards the fire. Eventually, the visitor drew Red Star into the fire and beheaded him with the flint knives on his arms. He ran away with the head, but the headless body remained behind alive. The evil spirit coursed through the heavens with his head tied to his back. Thus he became a man with two heads. No one could stop the evil spirit from doing exactly as he pleased, so the spirits convened a council in which they determined to make something more powerful than their adversary. Each spirit took some of the light-and-life from their physical bodies and put it in a bundle. They took this to Earthmaker, who matched their contribution with a greater one of his own. They gave this bundle to Sun. While Red Star's sister (Moon) was bent over digging for Indian potatoes, Sun impregnated her with the contents of the bundle. She gave birth to the Twins, the most powerful beings the universe had ever seen. They eventually came to communicate with their uncle's headless body through signs. They visit their father Sun and learn how the evil spirit is vulnerable. After disguising themselves as serpents, they hide where the evil spirit stops at the edge of the world to take a drink. While he is thus bent over, they attack him and cut his own head off. They rush back to their lodge with both heads. The Twins throw Red Star's head back onto his neck and it reattaches itself perfectly. Then they ram red hot spikes of iron into the other head's brain, thereby killing it.9

There exists another story of the Twins and their uncle Bluehorn (Red Star). Here the avatar of the sun is a strong man who marries many women whom he often abuses. The two last daughters of the chief of that village flee into the wilderness, and find sanctuary in the hill in which their brother Bluehorn lives. He allows the warrior to marry his two sisters, but when he begins to abuse them, they call for Bluehorn, who magically appears. He cows the warrior into complete submission, and ever after his two sororal wives dominate him completely. Each has a son born at the same time. These are Bluehorn's nephews, the Twins. The older sister was jealous of the attention that Bluehorn lavished on the younger sister, so one day when he was sleeping, she tied the four queues of his blue hair to the four corners of the lodge. Then she called upon the Thunders to take him. The Twins came to the scene of the fight and discovered that the Thunders had abducted their uncle. They killed the eldest sister for her treason, and set out after Bluehorn. They retrieved him, but found that he had been partly eaten by the Thunders. However, as they traveled back, he was able to regenerate all of what he had lost. He revived the older sister, then went to live in his hill.10

Another tradition has the Twins reborn from the human avatars of the sun and moon. Their mother dies, in most cases from the actions of an evil spirit,11 but in another story, through the travails of childbirth.12 Her youngest child, Ghost or Stump, dies with her. He is buried in, or in front of, a Stump (hence his name). The older Twin, Flesh, survives to live on with his father in their isolated lodge in the wilderness. His father, of necessity, leaves his son behind at the lodge to go hunting. While he is gone, Flesh is visited by another boy who spends the day playing with him. At the end of the day, this boy takes all of Flesh's arrows and disappears beneath the waves of the nearby lake. In time the father deduces that this is his lost son Stump (Ghost), so he and Flesh eventually capture him. He is domesticated only when some kind of bladder is strapped on as a headdress so that he cannot dive below the waters and disappear.13

After the Twins are "domesticated" they begin to wander about having many adventures. They often encounter very powerful animals the eating of whose flesh is taboo. They combat giant snakes, who even kill one of the Twins, but he is brought back to life by his brother. They defeat their opponents, then eat their forbidden flesh. When they offer their father a share in the feast he is shocked and dismayed. During one such battle, the Twins took off their blankets to prepare for combat. Flesh had a blanket of mink fur, but Stump had one of timbermouse fur. Stump's blanket was stolen by a Thunderbird, Sleets as He Walks. They eventually end up killing him as well as other Thunderbirds and reclaim the lost blanket.14 In their wanderings they almost invariably come upon Thunderbird nestling whom they kill. This occasions a battle with the Thunders in which many of the birds are dispatched.15 This does not mean that they affiliated themselves with the enemies of the Thunders, however. The Twins are equal opportunity killers. When they were out looking for the lost blanket, they visited the lodges of a number of Waterspirits. Most of these they killed, and in one case they burned down the lodge in which the unfortunate host lived.16 Once they encountered a bobtailed Waterspirit, whom they called a "beaver." They dispatched it and ate its forbidden flesh.17 On another occasion they came across a "beaver lodge" and flushed out its occupant, whom they killed and ate. It too was a Waterspirit.18 Once Redhorn led an expedition against a band of Waterspirits. The Twins joined up with the warparty and were later named scouts. During the attack, they scored the greatest war honors. Stump even revived Turtle, who had been killed by one of the Waterspirits.19 On other occasions they battle giant leeches, whom they later eat. At other times, they have killed grizzly bears and eaten their flesh.20

Their father is horrified by their behavior, and soon comes to fear them. He attempts to flee, but the Twins magically return him to someplace very near to where he started out. Finally, they tell their father that if he wants to leave, he has their blessing. They even tell their father how he might go someplace and remarry. When he does leave and follows their directions to his new bride, he discovers that she is his dead wife reborn. The Twins come to visit him four times, and each time they perform a great feat of hunting which supplies the whole village for months on end. Finally, however, the Twins begin once again to wander the earth.21

On their journeys to the Upper World, they visited Earthmaker and his evil counterpart, Herešgúnina. They found Herešgúnina busy working in a book. It turns out that he was shorting the days allotted to human beings in Earthmaker's Book of Life. Once they got the book in their hands, the Twins proceeded to lengthen the days allotted to people. Herešgúnina objected, but was too afraid of the Twins to try to stop them.22 Later Herešgúnina persuaded them to take a steam bath. He locked them in an iron chamber and attempted to steam cook them. However, the Twins had so much force that they burst the chamber and set the lodge on fire. Herešgúnina lost everything except his life.23

The Twins having completed their mission to restore their uncle Bluehorn (Red Star), and to rid the earth of those things particularly noxious to the human race, now posed something of a threat to Earthmaker's creation, since they were now more powerful than any spirit. Earthmaker became concerned that they would now turn on the things of his own creation and become a liability to the good spirits out of whose life substance they originated. Therefore he summoned the king of birds, the turkey Rušewe. (A turkey is the chief of birds because its feathers are used for making the wings of an arrow.) The Twins had an irrational fear of this bird, and when they caught sight of it, they fled to the sanctuary of Earthmaker. He agreed to protect them with the stipulation that they would in effect retire. Thus (in fairly recent times, it is said), the Twins retired to a certain hill, where even today they can be spiritually contacted.24

The stories about the Twins divide into two basic types: accounts of how the Twins retrieved the head of their uncle Red Star (Bluehorn), and stories about the human birth of the Twins and their adventures as prodigies on earth. In the latter the primary "code" of the myth is organized around the contrasting concepts of body and soul, or in the language of names, "Ghost" and "Flesh." In the former, the codes are organized primarily around astronomy, with the uncle being explicitly identified as Evening Star. In one of these stories (The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head), the opponent of Evening Star is the chief of the evil spirits, which is to say, Herešgúnina. Herešgúnina has no obvious astronomical expression, and may be derivative. In other stories this "Man with Two Heads," is unnamed, but we are told that he is exactly like Evening Star in every respect, and that furthermore he is (in one account) his brother. This makes it rather easy to identify him — the star that is identical to the Evening Star in every respect is the Morning Star. In addition, we are told that Morning Star is Red Star's brother. Morning Star is not otherwise Herešgúnina, so the identity implied almost certainly must stem from the Judeo-Christian identification of the Morning Star with Lucifer, who in their mythology is also the chief of the devils (evil spirits). Who, then, are the Twins? Since the Evening and Morning Stars would both be their uncles, and they are frozen perpetually in childhood, they would seem to be miniature counterparts of their twin uncles. Astronomically, this answers perfectly to the morning and evening manifestations of the planet Mercury, which is clearly smaller in size and closer to the sun, making the two twins manifestations the "children of the sun." When Mercury is in conjunction with the sun we no longer see it in the sky. It is then that the two Twins are united as one on earth, with body and soul together. After their adventures on earth (conjunction), they go their separate ways, as the myths tell us explicitly.


Links: Gottschall, Sun, Moon, Bluehorn (Evening Star), Earthmaker, Rušewe, Herešgúnina, Fire, Thunderbirds, Waterspirits, Mice, Minks, Redhorn, Sons of Redhorn, Turtle, Sleets as He Walks, Snakes, Leeches, Bears, Morning Star, Hare.


Stories: mentioning the Twins: The Twins Cycle, The Man with Two Heads, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Children of the Sun, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Two Boys, The Two Brothers, The Lost Blanket; about two brothers: The Two Children, The Twin Sisters, The Captive Boys, The Twins Cycle, The Two Brothers, The Two Boys, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Children of the Sun, The Lost Blanket, The Man with Two Heads, Bluehorn's Nephews, Snowshoe Strings, Sunset Point, The Old Man and the Giants, The Brown Squirrel, Esau was an Indian; featuring Sun as a character: Sun and the Big Eater, Grandfather's Two Families, The Big Eater, The Children of the Sun, Hare Burns His Buttocks, The Birth of the Twins, The Man who was Blessed by the Sun; pertaining to the Moon: The Markings on the Moon, Black and White Moons, Berdache Origin Myth, Sun and the Big Eater, The Big Eater, Hare Kills Wildcat, Grandfather's Two Families, Berdache Origin Myth (v. 1), Turtle and the Giant; with Bluehorn (Evening Star) as a character: Bluehorn's Nephews, Brave Man, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, Children of the Sun, Grandfather's Two Families, The Man with Two Heads, Sun and the Big Eater; mentioning Thunderbirds: The Thunderbird, Waruǧápara, How the Thunders Met the Nights, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, Traveler and the Thunderbird War, The Boulders of Devil's Lake, Thunderbird and White Horse, Bluehorn's Nephews, How the Hills and Valleys were Formed (vv. 1, 2), The Man who was a Reincarnated Thunderbird, The Thunder Charm, The Lost Blanket, The Twins Disobey Their Father, The Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Story of the Thunder Names, The Hawk Clan Origin Myth, Eagle Clan Origin Myth, Pigeon Clan Origins, Bird Clan Origin Myth, Adventures of Redhorn's Sons, Brave Man, Ocean Duck, Turtle's Warparty, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, The Quail Hunter, Heną́ga and the Star Girl, The Twins Join Redhorn's Warparty, Redhorn's Sons, The Dipper, The Stone that Became a Frog, The Race for the Chief's Daughter, Redhorn Contests the Giants, The Sons of Redhorn Find Their Father, The Warbundle of the Eight Generations, Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Origin of the Hočąk Chief, The Spirit of Gambling, Wolf Clan Origin Myth, Aračgéga's Blessings, Kunu's Warpath, The Orphan who was Blessed with a Horse, The Glory of the Morning, The Nightspirits Bless Čiwoit’éhiga, The Green Waterspirit of the Wisconsin Dells, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Big Stone, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, Song to Earthmaker, The Origins of the Milky Way; in which Waterspirits occur as characters: Waterspirit Clan Origin Myth, Traveler and the Thunderbird War, The Green Waterspirit of Wisconsin Dells, The Lost Child, River Child and the Waterspirit of Devil's Lake, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Bluehorn's Nephews, Holy One and His Brother, The Seer, The Nannyberry Picker, The Creation of the World (vv. 1, 4), Šųgepaga, The Sioux Warparty and the Waterspirit of Green Lake, The Waterspirit of Lake Koshkonong, The Waterspirit of Rock River, The Boulders of Devil's Lake, Devil's Lake — How it Got its Name, Old Man and Wears White Feather, Waterspirits Keep the Corn Fields Wet, The Diving Contest, The Lost Blanket, Redhorn's Sons, The Phantom Woman, Įčorúšika and His Brothers, Great Walker's Warpath, White Thunder's Warpath, The Descent of the Drum, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, Snowshoe Strings, The Thunderbird, Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp (v. 2), The Two Children, The Twins Join Redhorn's Warparty, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, Paint Medicine Origin Myth, Waruǧápara, Ocean Duck, The Twin Sisters, Trickster Concludes His Mission, The King Bird, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Great Walker's Medicine (v. 2), Heną́ga and the Star Girl, Peace of Mind Regained, How the Thunders Met the Nights, The Spiritual Descent of John Rave's Grandmother, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, The Shaggy Man, The Woman who Married a Snake (?), Hare Secures the Creation Lodge, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, The Sacred Lake, Lost Lake; featuring Herešgúnina (the Bad Spirit or One Legged One) as a character: The Creation of Evil, The Creation of the World, The Creation of Man, The Twins Get into Hot Water, The Lost Blanket, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Woman Who Became an Ant, The Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Journey to Spiritland, Šųgepaga, The Spirit of Gambling, Bladder and His Brothers, The Two Brothers, The Origins of the Milky Way, The Buffalo's Walk; see also Black and White Moons, The Shawnee Prophet and His Ascension, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hočągara; about Rušewe: Bluehorn's Nephews, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins; involving tree stumps: The Twins Cycle, The Two Brothers, The Two Boys, The Pointing Man, The Were-fish, The Spirit of Maple Bluff, Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name.


Themes: the Twins rescue Turtle from certain death: The Twins Join Redhorn's Warparty, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth; the Twins disobey the commands of someone with fatherly authority over them: The Twins Get into Hot Water, The Twins Disobey Their Father, The Two Boys, The Lost Blanket, The Two Brothers.


Notes

1 "The Epic of the Twins, Part One," in Paul Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic. A Study in Comparative Literature, Part I (Basil: Ethnographical Museum, Basil Switzerland, 1954) 41. "Children of the Sun," in Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic, Part I.75-80.

2 "The Epic of the Twins, Part Three," in Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic, I.74.

3 "The Epic of the Twins, Part One," in Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic, I.41.

4 Paul Radin, "Wak'čexi Hečoga (Waterspirit Bluehorn)," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #66, Story 2.

5 Paul Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic, Part II (Basil, Switzerland: Ethnographical Museum, 1956) II.119, II.125. Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic, I.41 (§75)

6 "Children of the Sun," in Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic, I.75-80. Phillip Longtail (Sįčserečka), Buffalo Clan, "The Man with Two Heads," text with interlinear translation by James Owen Dorsey, 4800 Dorsey Papers: Winnebago 3.3.2 (Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution, National Anthropological Archives, October and November, 1893) VIII.1-8.

7 "The Epic of the Twins, Part Three," in Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic, I.58-74.

8 Jasper Blowsnake, "Waretcawera," in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman Numbers 3850, 3896, 3897 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) Notebook 67: 2-41 [22].

9 "The Epic of the Twins, Part One," in Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic, I.24-41. Very close to this account are the following: Phillip Longtail, "The Man with Two Heads," in James Owen Dorsey, 4800 Dorsey Papers: Winnebago 3.3.2, VIII.1-8; "Children of the Sun," in Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic, I.75-80.

10 "Blue Horn's Nephews," in Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic, I.80-84.

11 "The Twins," in Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic, I.84-87.

12 "The Epic of the Twins, Part Three," in Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic, I.58-74.

13 "The Twins," in Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic, I.84-87. "The Epic of the Twins, Part Three," in Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic, I.58-74. Longtail, "The Two Brothers, Waloga and Little Ghost," V.1-9.

14 "The Epic of the Twins, Part Two," in Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic, I.42-58.

15 Longtail, "The Two Brothers, Waloga and Little Ghost," V.14-15. "The Epic of the Twins, Part Two," in Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic, I.55-56. "The Twins," in Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic, I.89-90.

16 "The Epic of the Twins, Part Two," in Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic, I.42-45.

17 "Blue Horn's Nephews," in Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic, I.80-84.

18 "The Twins," in Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic, I.97.

19 "The Twins," in Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic, I.95-97.

20 "The Epic of the Twins, Part Two," in Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic, I.69-70.

21 "The Twins," in Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic, I.91-93. "The Epic of the Twins, Part Three," in Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic, I.70-74. Longtail, "The Two Brothers, Waloga and Little Ghost," V.12-13.

22 "The Twins," in Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic, I.93.

23 "The Twins," in Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic, I.94. "The Epic of the Twins, Part Two," in Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic, I.50-54.

24 "The Twins," in Radin, The Evolution of an American Indian Prose Epic, I.97. Longtail, "The Two Brothers, Waloga and Little Ghost," V.15.