Far above the ever-moving waters and the windswept prairies, beyond the skies in which the birds wheel and sing, lies the land of the happy and bounteous spirits ruled by the Great Spirit. And in the centre of that land is a great tree, whose roots sink deeper into the land than a boar can dig, and whose branches rise higher into the air than the eagle can fly. Beneath the shade of the tree, the dwellers of that land sit to hold council.
But in the great and ancient past, our world was filled by deep water. No people breathed yet, but the covering sky was filled with great ducks, and strange creatures swam in the covering waters. The voices of the sea and the cloud-filled sky sang the song of their loneliness, until their voices reached up to the Great Spirit. He summoned his council, and told them, "Beneath our land is another land, a lonely land, which cries out to us for help. Let us talk to it."
"But how will we find that land?", someone asked. "Who will show us the way?"
The tree quivered in the wind. Great Spirit raised his head and said, "The roots of our Council Tree will." And so they pulled the tree up by its roots, as tenderly as a puma raises her cub in her mouth. A great pit appeared in the ground where the tree's roots had been.
Then Great Spirit summoned his daughter, Ata-en-sic, the woman of the skies, who was with child, and bade her look into the pit. "What do you see there, daughter?", he asked.
"I see nothing, father", she replied. But Great Spirit heard the voice of the sea and sky call out to them, bidding her carry the life she bore to them. So he plucked a ray of light from the sky and, wrapping her in it, gently dropped her into the cloud sea.
The birds and animals saw her falling. The creatures of the water only saw a brilliant light, and dove into the water in fear. But the birds of the air saw a beautiful woman falling from the sky, and they were moved. So they held a grand council. "How can we help her to come safely to the water?", they asked. They decided to spread their wings wide, each bird spreading its wings till it touched the wings of its neighbours. So they formed a huge blanket that caught the woman and bore her safely and gently towards the water.
Now the creatures of the deeps saw that the dazzling light had hid Ata-en-sic, the woman of the skies, and they held a council. "Which of us can protect this beautiful creature from being swallowed by the stirring waters?", they asked. One by one, the creatures said that this would be beyond their power. Then the beaver spoke, and said, "Only oeh-da, the Earth itself, can hold her, the oeh-da which lies buried below the waters. I will fetch it." And he dived deep down into the waters. But after some time, his body floated back to the surface, and the animals knew he had failed.
Many other animals tried, but none of them could survive the journey to the depths at which the earth lay buried. Then the musk-rat said, "I will try", and he dived to the bottom of the sea. And when his little body floated up to the top, they found a tiny piece of earth clenched tightly in his claws. They took it out, but it was heavy. "Who can bear this?", they cried.
Then Hah-nu-hah, the Giant Turtle spoke, and he said, "I will bear it on my back, and I will keep the woman of the skies and all her children safe." So the animals patted the earth onto his hard back. The birds now descended, and placed Ata-en-sic gently upon his back. Giant Turtle magically stretched himself, till he was as large as a small island.
Ata-en-sic heard two voices under her heart. The first was soft and gentle, but the second was loud and brash. Then Ata-en-sic knew that two lives would come to end her solitude, but one patient and the other restless; one great heart, and one vicious. Thus were born the Twin Spirits, Hah-gweh-di-yu, the good spirit, and Hah-gweh-da-et-gah, the spirit of evil. The birth of the evil twin brought so much sorrow on Ata-en-sic that she died.
The Good Twin grieved for her death, and he shaped the clouds with his hand to form the sky, and there he set Ata-en-sic's face, to shine forever on the Earth till the end of days. But the Evil Twin raised his hand, and he shaped darkness to move across the sky, driving the sun before it. So the Good Twin drew from his mother's womb and breast his unborn sisters, the stars, and the moon. Taking them by the hand, he guided them to the night sky to watch over the Earth till the sun should return.
And to the Earth, he gave the body of Ata-en-sic, to be the Great Mother from whom all life would spring. All over the land, he planted mountains, and high hills in the valleys to protect the rivers that ran gently to the sea. He set forests on the hills, and trees and vines on the plains, and he made the gentle winds that bear their seeds across the land. But the Evil Twin arose in malice, and he sundered the mountains, hurling them far apart, and drove the hills into the valleys. He bent and twisted the rivers, and drove rocks into them, and created fast-moving currents and rapids. He gnarled the trees and poisoned their fruit. He tore the stems of the bushes into thorns, and wove the winds into hurricanes that drove the sun and the stars from the sky.
The Good Twin now crossed a great sea, and came to a strange land. There, he met a spirit who said he was the father of the Good Twin. "What burdens can you bear?", he asked the Good Twin. So the Good Twin lifted a high mountain and hurled it far into the air. "You are fit to be my son", the spirit said. And he lashed two great burdens to the back of the Good Twin. These the Good Twin bore back to the Earth.
As he neared the Earth, the burdens split open. From the first flew an eagle, and the birds followed it into the sky, filling the airs from the grass to the sun with their song. From the second leaped a deer, which ran gracefully to the mountains, followed by the other animals. In wrath, the Evil Twin tried to make wild beasts that hunted and killed, the flying death that comes unseen, and evil reptiles to poison the mud. Yet the beauty that the Good Twin had created remained.
So the Good Twin set a guarding spirit upon all things, and called upon his brother to acknowledge his defeat. But the Evil Twin spurned his offer, and challenged him to combat. He offered as weapons poisonous roots and monsters' fangs; but the Good Twin chose the strong, true roots of the crab-apple tree. With this they did battle for many days, till the Evil Twin was defeated, and banished to a dark cave deep in the bowels of the Earth, from whence he can never return. But the servants of the Evil Twin remain on this Earth, and cause men to do wicked things. And so there is some evil in the most virtuous of men, and some virtue in the most base.
As the children of men were born and grew, Giant Tortoise too stretched himself, till he was the great land that is now our home, and he carries all, as safely as a mother bears her child on her back, as safely as a canoe bears us across the flowing river.
This is my telling of a Haudenosaunee myth. The tale is theirs, but the voice is mine. A telling closer to theirs has been noded by ephealy; may his memory be a blessing.