The Necessity for Death (§15 of the Hare Cycle)

retold by Richard L. Dieterle

Version 1 of the Published Hare Cycle

Hare told Grandmother, "Now that I have rid the world of those who were abusing my uncles and aunts, they will be able to live in peace free of death." But Grandmother replied, "How can the humans be like you? Earthmaker did not create them this way. Even trees fall to the ground dead. I myself am not wholly permanent." Then he saw the earth cave in, as it sometimes does, and with it were human beings who also caved in. "Grandson," she said, "the Creator made me too small for people to live on me forever — what would so great a number do for food? So everything must come to an end." Hare recalled how he had made the earth safe for man, but now it seemed like his grandmother had spoiled it. This made him feel extremely sad. He lay in the corner covered with a blanket and wept out of pity for his uncles and aunts. It was then that he conceived of the Medicine Rite.

During his sojourn on earth, Hare killed all those things of the air that were abusing mankind; and those things on the face of the earth that attacked people, all these he killed as well. Thus it is said that Hare pushed the evil spirits of the air farther up into the sky, and the evil spirits whose backs protruded above the earth, these he pushed farther down.1

The End of the Hare Cycle

Version 2a (incomplete — collected ca. 1945)

The preceding part of the story.

(59) "There he went into the lodge. 'Now, O grandmother, I have accomplished the work for which my Father sent me. To make good the creation, all that he sent me for I have accomplished. My aunts and uncles will have a life like my own.' And, 'O grandson, how did you make it, and how could you make your uncles' lives like your own? It is not so.' 'Because our Father created it this way, thus it is. It is not good to do this way to him. My grandmother must be something to them, for this reason she must be saying that it is not good for her that I killed them for her,' he thought. (60) 'No grandson, not like this am I thinking, I am saying. O grandson, the body he created with its fall (death). Because they would make themselves fall short of food, for this reason he made them fall. Because they would crowd each other on this earth, he made death, that he made them have. And really Hare was thinking, 'It is not good for her because she is something to them, she is taking their part.' 'No, O grandson, it is not so. For a long time your heart ached and ached, nevertheless your uncles and aunts will at least have enough of life. They will surely reach old age,' she said to him. 'Now, O grandson, stand up. They will keep on following me, and I will keep on following you. O grandson, do it with all your might. You are a man. Do not look back.' As they were starting around, she was telling him not to look back. The reason why grandmother said it is because of what he had thought. Just a little to the left he looked back and then the place that they had come from suddenly caved in. 'O grandson, alas, you are a man — I urged upon you strongly something great. O grandson, even this I cannot take back.' It is said that she meant this fall, this death. As they went around, they went around the edge of the fire, it is said."2

See the complete story.

Version 2a, Hocąk-English Interlinear Text

Version 2b

This story is a mere variant of v. 2a above. Although it is in English, it was told well before its Hocąk variant.

Preceding part of the story.

"Then he sent Hare down to earth to restore order. He said, 'See, grandmother, I have done the work my father directed me to do. The lives of my uncles and aunts, the two-legged walkers, will be endless like mine.' His grandmother said, 'Grandson, how could you make the lives of your uncles and aunts endless like yours? How could you do something in a way Earth-maker had not intended it to be? Earth-maker could not make them thus.' Hare thought, 'My grandmother must be related to the evil spirits I have killed. She does not like what I have done, for she is saying that I killed the evil spirits.' Now grandmother heard him think. 'No, grandson, I am not thinking of that. I am saying that our father made death so there should not be a lack of food on earth. He made death to prevent overcrowding. He also made a spirit world in which they should live after death.' Hare did not like what she said. 'Grandmother surely does not like it,' he thought. 'She must be related to the evil spirits.' 'No, grandson, it is not so. But to quiet you, your uncles and aunts will live to be very old.' Then she spoke again, 'Now, grandson, stand up. The two-legged walkers shall follow me always. I shall follow you always. Therefore try to do what I tell you. Remember you are a man. Do not look back after you have started.' Then they started to go around the earth. 'Do not look back,' she said. 'I wonder why she says that,' thought Hare. Then he turned his head the least little bit to the left, and looked back to the place from which they had started. Instantly everything caved in. 'Oh, my! Oh, my!' exclaimed grandmother. 'Grandson, a man you are; but I thought you were a great man, so I greatly encouraged you. Now even if I wished to, I could not prevent death.' This she meant, so they say. Then they went around the earth, to the edge of the fire which encircles the earth. That way they went, so they say."3

The story continues in exact parallel with the Hocąk version collected over 30 years later by Lipkind. See the complete story.

Version 3 of the V.23 Text

translated by Richard L. Dieterle

Hocąk Syllabic Text with an Interlinear Translation

(151) The old woman said, "My dear grandson, it is said that they are pitiable. How will you do something about giving equal life to your little uncles and little aunts? Earthmaker created his creation with a purpose. The fall (death) of all things he made possible. Going around, you will do it. (152) You see one of the trees standing someplace on the earth. He made it fall down. Because he thought of it, someplace the grasses [flattened out]. When you saw it, it fell. Again it touched them repeatedly because of the one who had thought of the fall (death). Because he thought of when winter was to be in someplace, again in the past it came to pass. He made possible the fall (death). All things that are alive, also in this way he created," she said. When he looked back, the back of her body had caved in. (153) At a place the earth had caved in. When they usually saw it, that was the kind he saw. Unexpectedly, there also he saw that life as well caved in. "Grandson, this is the way it is. You and I caused the flesh to cave in. Therefore, if you make for them a life like your own, the earth will be filled up. Instead, you should go even further to extend it as far as it perhaps could be. Were they to have enough food, it would be good for their descendants. (154) Otherwise, the earth will be filled up." He came forth. Instead, they did it in vain. There was Hare. "My grandmother, it is a good thing I can do to gain life for my little uncles and my little aunts." It was not good, he thought. His heart ached. There he was. He took something from his mouth and inside he laid down and cried. He said that he cried in order to gain something for the people. There he was. (155) Again from that point on he did the actions of the Medicine Dance. This is the story (worak).4

Commentary. "wept out of pity" — It is usual for Hocąks looking for a blessing to weep and make themselves pitiable before the spirits, and thereby acquire both a merit from austerity and a motive from which the spirits would grant them blessings. Hare does the same thing, even though he is on the giving end of the blessing. It is as if Hare is the most successful of the savior-heroes because he has become the most human. In this aspect, he is the opposite of Trickster (see the Commentary to The Lake Winnebago Origin Myth).

"my Father" — that is, Mą'ų́ną or Earthmaker.

"a life like my own" — the immortal life possessed by such Great Spirits as Hare.

"must be something to them" — by this is meant that they must bear some kinship to her. Indeed, all of the bad spirits that Hare has killed are Grandmother Earth's brothers. This fact leads Hare to suspect that she is opposed to his mission.

"they went around the edge of the fire" — This appears to be a centrally located fire. In a system in which left and right are symbolically coded, right pertains to the positive domain, leaving left with a more sinister reputation. Looking left can be expected, almost a priori, to be associated with death. And when Hare does look left, he views a place that they have already been. It is at this moment that the earth caves in there. This process of caving in is a representation of the grave. Sometimes it is said that Grandmother's back caves in, which, given the esoteric identification of Grandmother, is exactly the same thing put in a different symbolic phrasing. The fire is not what Hare is looking at; consequently, he is looking away from the fire. This is predictable as well, since the fire radiates light, hąp, which has the metaphorical meaning of "life." So when Hare looks away from the fire and causes the symbolic enactment of death, he is also looking away from Life. Since left is away from the centrally located fire, it follows that they are moving around it in a clockwise fashion. This is also sunwise, in the sense that this is the direction in which shadows move as the sun progresses through the sky, as can be most particularly seen on a sundial (hence "clockwise").

"equal life" — that is, life equal to his own — an immortal life.

"the fall (death)" — the use of the word "fall" (hok'ąné) to mean death is quite likely an influence from the Old Testament.

"going around" — this is an allusion to what is more explicitly treated in the other variants, i.e., that Hare and Grandmother walk around the edge of the world, or around the periphery of a fire.

"the back of her body had caved in" — inasmuch as Grandmother is earth, the caving in of her back represents a cavity created on her surface. This cavity is the grave. Thus the story goes on to say that the earth had caved in and with it life too had caved in.

"he cried in order to gain something for the people" — this is the process by which ordinary people obtain blessings from the spirits, who are moved by pity for them and the human condition generally. He is trying to appeal directly to his father Earthmaker. (see above)

General Remarks. Why is it that looking backwards results in death? This is a very common theme in Greek mythology, where the Charon, the ferryman of the dead, has a head that is permanently facing backward. This is the usual homologizing of time by space. Looking backward in space is the same as looking backward in time. The ferryman of the dead always looks backward because his charges have no future in life (forward time), but only a past (backward time). This is why Eurydice disappears when Orpheus looks backward into Hades. When he looks backward, he brings forward time to an end, and encompasses Eurydice into the vista of past time which just is the land of those whose time has passed, Hades. So it is with Hare, who looks back, breaking the circle of forward time and introducing the vista of backward time. When he looks into backward space/time, he breaks the infinite, circular forward space/time and introduces into its midst the vista of backward-only space/time. This breaking of infinite progression just is the introduction of backward time on the Road of Life and Death. The vista that Hare establishes is the vista of only what has passed in space/time, what has been in the past on the Road of Life and Death. If the Road can be made circular, it can be made infinite. This Road also turns perpetually towards the fire, the source of Life and Light. By turning away from this Light and Life, Hare breaks the circle, introduces a vista that encompasses backward time only, and interrupts the infinite course upon which the Road of Life and Death has been set out. Those heroes who are killed in action are like the spirits, they are on a cyclical road, never looking back. Their death is but a stumbling, not a reverse of vista or a turning away from the Light. It is this cycle that Hare tries to establish for all his uncles and aunts (the sum of humanity), but he breaks the circle, reintroducing the vista that encompasses the past only, the vista of the grave, which instantaneously appears as a caving in of the earth. For another instance of the backward looking head, see The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head.

Comparative Material. The Blackfeet also organize this story as a dialogue, but between their trickster figure, Old Man, and his wife, Old Woman. They decide that in all arguments that he shall have the first word, and she the last. Old Woman asked him what they should do about mortality, and he said if they throw a buffalo chip into the water and it floats, then people will be immortal. When it floated, Old Woman said that this is not how it would be. She said that if a rock floated on the water, then they would live forever. It sank, and she said that this was for the best, since if people did not die, they would never feel sympathy for one another.5

In a North Piegan version, Old Woman says that if people do not die forever, then there will be too many people in the world, and that people would never feel sorry for one another. Old Man threw a buffalo chip into the water, and said that if it floated, then people would die for four days, then come back to life; if it sank, then they would die forever. He threw it in, but it sank because Old Woman turned it to stone.6

The Arapaho have a similar account. "Then man's life was ordained. The one with the turtle moccasins threw a buffalo chip into the water, saying: 'As this floats, let the life of man be.' But Nih’āⁿçaⁿ [a trickster] threw a stone and said: 'Let man's life be like this, for if all live, there will soon be no room for them.' And so men die."7 In another variant, Nih’āⁿçaⁿ throws in the buffalo chip and it floats, so he says, "Thus I shall come again." The human throws in a stone, and says, "Just like it I shall disappear."8

Even the distant Navaho are in basic agreement in their account of the origin of death. First Man and First Woman made a pole which they planned to cast into a lake. If this pole floated to shore, then there should be no death; otherwise, people would die. As they cast the pole into the water, up came Coyote who threw in a big stone ax, saying, "If this ax floats, then there will be no death." The ax sunk and never came back up, but the pole floated to shore. Thus it was decided that although there would be death, people who were gravely ill would occasionally recover.9

Similar myths are found among other Indian nations: Cheyenne,10 and Jicarilla Apache.11

We even find an interesting parallel among the Bantu peoples of southern Africa. "The moon sent Hare to the first people with the message, 'Just as the Moon dies and rises again so shall you.' But Hare got the message wrong and told them, 'Just as the Moon dies and perishes so shall you'. When the Moon found out what Hare had said, she beat him on the nose with a stick, and since that day Hare's nose has been split."12

Links: Hare, Earth, Earthmaker, Tree Spirits, The Sons of Earthmaker.

Links within the Hare Cycle: §14. Hare Recruits Game Animals for Humans.

Links within the V.23 Hare Cycle: §3. Hare Establishes the Bear Hunt, Version 1.

Stories: featuring Hare as a character: The Hare Cycle, Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Mission of the Five Sons of Earthmaker, Hare Acquires His Arrows, Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp, Hare Recruits Game Animals for Humans, Hare Kills Wildcat, The Messengers of Hare, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge, Hare Kills Flint, Hare Kills Sharp Elbow, Hare Visits His Grandfather Bear, Grandmother Packs the Bear Meat, Hare Visits the Bodiless Heads, Hare Visits the Blind Men, Hare Kills a Man with a Cane, Hare Burns His Buttocks, Hare Gets Swallowed, The Hill that Devoured Men and Animals, Hare Establishes Bear Hunting, Grandmother's Gifts, Hare and the Grasshoppers, The Spirit of Gambling, The Red Man, Maize Origin Myth, Hare Steals the Fish, The Animal who would Eat Men, The Gift of Shooting, Hare and the Dangerous Frog, Thunder Cloud is Blessed, The Coughing Up of the Black Hawks, The Animal Spirit Aids of the Medicine Rite, The Petition to Earthmaker; featuring Grandmother Earth as a character: Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Maize Origin Myth, Grandmother Packs the Bear Meat, Grandmother's Gifts, Owl Goes Hunting, Hare and the Grasshoppers, Hare Acquires His Arrows, The Plant Blessing of Earth, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth, Hare Visits the Blind Men, Hare Visits His Grandfather Bear, Hare Visits the Bodiless Heads, Hare Burns His Buttocks, Hare Gets Swallowed, Hare Kills Wildcat, Hare and the Dangerous Frog, Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp, Hare Recruits Game Animals for Humans, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge, Hare Steals the Fish, Hare Kills Sharp Elbow, Hare Kills Flint, The Gift of Shooting, The Creation of the World, The Creation of Man (vv 4, 6), Hare Establishes Bear Hunting, Redhorn's Father (?), mentioning trees or Tree Spirits: The Creation of the World, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Children of the Sun, Visit of the Wood Spirit, The Man Who Lost His Children to a Wood Spirit, The Boy who would be Immortal, The Commandments of Earthmaker, The Woman who Became a Walnut Tree, The Old Woman and the Maple Tree Spirit, The Oak Tree and the Man Who was Blessed by the Heroka, The Pointing Man, The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster, The Baldness of the Buzzard, Trickster Eats the Laxative Bulb, Trickster Loses His Meal, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 2), Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Waruǧábᵉra, The Chief of the Heroka, The Red Man, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth, The Annihilation of the Hocągara I, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Blessing of the Bow, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, The Spirit of Gambling, Peace of Mind Regained, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth, The Story of the Medicine Rite; pertaining to the Medicine Rite: The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Journey to Spiritland, Battle of the Night Blessed Men and the Medicine Rite Men, Holy Song, Holy Song II, Maize Origin Myth, Hog's Adventures, Great Walker's Warpath; mentioning Earthmaker: The Creation of the World, The Creation of Man, The Commandments of Earthmaker, The Twins Get into Hot Water, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Lost Blanket, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Man Who Would Dream of Mą’ųna, The First Snakes, Tobacco Origin Myth, The Creation Council, The Gray Wolf Origin Myth, The Journey to Spiritland, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, The Seven Maidens, The Descent of the Drum, Thunder Cloud Marries Again, The Spider's Eyes, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, Fourth Universe, Šųgepaga, The Fatal House, The Twin Sisters, Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Elk Clan Origin Myth, Deer Clan Origin Myth, Bear Clan Origin Myth, Wolf Clan Origin Myth, The Masaxe War, The Two Children, Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Petition to Earthmaker, The Gift of Shooting, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Stone Heart, The Wild Rose, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, The Lame Friend, How the Hills and Valleys were Formed, The Hocąk Migration Myth, Hocąk Clans Origin Myth, The War among the Animals, Lake Winnebago Origin Myth, Blue Mounds, Lost Lake, The Hocągara Migrate South, The Spirit of Gambling, Turtle and the Giant, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hocągara, The Hocągara Contest the Giants, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, Bird Origin Myth, Black and White Moons, Redhorn's Sons, Holy Song, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, Death Enters the World, Man and His Three Dogs, Trickster Concludes His Mission, Story of the Thunder Names, The Origins of the Milky Way, Trickster and the Dancers, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, East Enters the Medicine Lodge, The Creation of Evil, The Blessing of Kerexųsaka, Song to Earthmaker, The Blessing of the Bow, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth, The Origin of the Cliff Swallow.

A version of this story is told in The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth. In many ways the opposite of this story is The Lake Winnebago Origin Myth.

Themes: someone fasts to achieve human immortality: The Boy who would be Immortal; traveling over the whole earth: Deer Clan Origin Myth, The Pointing Man, Trickster and the Dancers, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Death Enters the World, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, The Twins Disobey Their Father, The Twins Get into Hot Water, The Twins Cycle, The Two Boys, The Lost Blanket, The Two Brothers, Bluehorn's Nephews; violating the terms of a blessing does harm: The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp, White Wolf, The Dog that became a Panther, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, Disease Giver Blesses Jobenągiwįxka, The Greedy Woman, Trickster, the Wolf, the Turtle, and the Meadow Lark (meadow lark), Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle; death enters the world for the first time: Holy One and His Brother, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Death Enters the World, Deer Clan Origin Myth; Grandmother's back caves in: Earthmaker Creates the World and Gives Turtle and Hare Their Missions, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, vv. 1, 4, The Creation of Man (v. 6); death viewed in positive terms: The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Four Slumbers Origin Myth, Bear Clan Origin Myth, Death Enters the World; a young hero (becomes depressed and) sits in silence with a blanket over his head: Turtle's Warparty, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Moiety Origin Myth; a hero drives evil subterranean spirits deeper into the lower world: Trickster Concludes His Mission, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (v. 4).


1 Paul Radin, Winnebago Hero Cycles: A Study in Aboriginal Literature (Baltimore: Waverly Press, 1948) 113-114. Paul Radin, The Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology (New York: Schocken Books, 1956) §§23-24, pp. 90-91. The original Hocąk text is missing, but the English translation of Oliver LaMère is preserved in Paul Radin, "The Hare Cycle," Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3851 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) Winnebago IV, #1: 151-156.

2 William Lipkind, Winnebago Grammar (New York: King's Crown Press, 1945) 59-61.

3 Katharine B. Judson, Myths and Legends of the Mississippi Valley and the Great Lakes (Chicago: A. C. McClung, 1914), reprinted as Native American Legends of the Great Lakes and Mississippi Valley (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2000) 31.

4 The Hare Cycle, in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3897 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) Winnebago V, #23: 151-155.

5 "Order of Life and Death," in Mythology of the Blackfoot Indians, compiled and translated by Clark Wissler and D. C. Duvall (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995 [1908]) Story 3: 19-21. Another Blackfoot version is said to be found in Grinnell, Blackfoot Lodge Tales, 138-139.

6 "Why People Die Forever," in Mythology of the Blackfoot Indians, 21.

7 Blindy, "The Flood and Origin of the Ceremonial Lodges," in George A. Dorsey and Alfred L. Kroeger, Traditions of the Arapaho (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997 [1903]) Story 6, p. 17.

8 Cleaver Warden in Traditions of the Arapaho, p. 17, nt. 1.

9 Aileen O'Bryan, Navaho Indian Myths (New York: Dover Publications, 1993 [1956]) 32. These stories were collected by the author in 1928 from Old Man Buffalo Grass. See also, Matthews, Mem. Am. Folk Lore Society, V, 77.

10 Journal of American Folk Lore, XIII, 161.

11 Russell, Journal of American Folk Lore, XI, 258.

12 Linda Frederick-Malanson, "Three African Trickster Myths/Tales — Primary Style," from the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute Website.