Nature as God: Repairing the Circle

The Cree people have never separated their deities from nature—and for good reason.


| Summer 2016



Cree People

The first mythology has one god, the second has many gods, and the third is a society where god has not yet left nature – god is in nature, nature is god; in a sense, biology is god.

Illustration by Tomson Highway

I speak two Native Languages because I come from a part of the country where Cree people moved so far north — my father, namely, and four young men at a time in the 1920s — that they moved into Dene territory. I come from the Manitoba/Nunavet border, which is actually Dene territory, so we were Cree people living among the Dene. Our village was half Cree and half Dene. There was the non-status side and there was the status — we’re status — and in order to go from the status Cree side of the village to the non-status Cree part of the village, you had to pass through a Dene section, a Dene neighborhood. Dene and Cree come from two totally different linguistic families. So we speak both languages because we had to. We had no choice. We didn’t speak English though. English didn’t exist back then. So when you speak Dene and Creek, it’s like being able to speak English and Mandarin. It’s a real gift to have had that as a child because, of course, the other languages came easier. So today I speak fluent French. And I work in English, French, and Cree — I have books published in those languages. So that’s where the big difference comes from.

The fact is that the origin of masculinity — the whole issue of gender — comes from linguistic structure. I think one has to understand that … oh, it’s a long story. How do I put it? Human behavior is ruled, the subconscious life of an individual is governed by the subconscious life of his community, his society. And the dream world, so to speak, is defined by the mythology of a people. To simplify the explanation — or raccourcir, to shorten it — languages are given birth to by mythologies, the collective dream world of a society. And they’re given birth to and they’re given form by that dream world. So the structure of a language depends on the nature of the mythology. And mythology spills into the discipline of theology, the but the difference, of course, is that theology is only about “God” whereas mythology is about god and man and nature. It’s interesting when you think about it: mythology, in a sense, is a combination of theology, sociology, and biology — the study of gods, men, and nature.

There’s mythologies, of course, all over the world. There’s as many mythologies as there are languages. And last time I counted, they say there’s between 5,000 and 6,000 languages in the world. And each one of them has a superstructure, like I say, given birth to by mythology, so that mythology is what decides the structure of the language. And those mythologies are divided into roughly three different categories: there’s monotheism, there’s polytheism, and there’s pantheism. These are all Greek words: Theos is “god.” So monotheism is about “one” god. Polytheism is about “many” gods. Pantheism is about god in “all” pan meaning “all.” So the first mythology has one god, the second has many gods, and the third is a society where god has not yet left nature — god is in nature, nature is god; in a sense, biology is god.

So the monotheistic superstructure is Christianity — there’s only one god in Christianity — and polytheism is what preceded Christianity in that part of the world, the eastern Mediterranean. The Greek and Roman mythologies are polytheistic systems, just like today in a society like Japan. Shintoism is a polytheistic superstructure. And then there’s pantheism; that’s Native.

In monotheism, there’s only one god and it’s also a phallic superstructure. There’s one god and he’s male. Male with a capital M. Then there’s man with a small m. And there’s female with a small f. And finally then there’s nature. So there’s He, he, she, then it. In that order. One of my students asked me, “Is there a She with a capital S on this superstructure?” There’s none. There’s no room for it. There’s no room for the idea of She with a capital S. And the other thing you’ll notice here is that there’s only two genders: male and female. And the male has complete power over the female. God created man first, and woman is an afterthought from his rib bone. It would be very interesting to see a society where, first of all, god was female — imagine the kind of world we would have if god was female and she created woman first and then created man from her rib bone? What an enormous difference that would make in human behavior.

So polytheism is not a phallic superstructure. It’s a semi-circular superstructure, interestingly enough, in the sense that there are many gods and goddesses. In fact, the principal deities, the pantheon of twelve gods among the ancient Greeks atop Mt. Olympus, consisted of six gods and six goddesses. So it was evenly divided. And there is historical proof of the time in history when one goddess was replaced by a god, resulting in seven male gods and five female gods, and that was the beginning of the end of the idea of divinity in female form. And those gods, as you probably know, are Zeus, the king, of the gods; the queen of the goddesses being Hera, his wife; and then there’s Poseidon, god of the sea; there’s Hermes the messenger god; there’s the god of the intellect, Apollo; and then there’s Demeter, the goddess of grain, an earth-based goddess,  the goddess of fertility, really; the goddess of war, Athena; and the goddess of love, of human sexuality, Aphrodite, who became Venus in Roman mythology; and so on and so forth. So there’s all these gods and goddesses along this semi-circle and there is room in this polytheistic structure for the idea of male and female divinity.