In Fire in the Dark, I remarked that while most of the examples of the Father, Striker, and Lord of the Earth god-archetypes I referred to were of Indo-European origin, I believed there were relevant analogs in many other cultures.
Men on Earth have lived under the same sky and sun and encountered many of the same challenges. They have inhabited approximately the same bodies and have seen the world through similar eyes. It makes sense, then, that they would come to many of the same conclusions independently and idealize the perfected forms of themselves in similar ways — with allowance for creativity and local color.
In evolutionary theory, the concepts of convergent evolution and recurrent evolution both fit loosely. In convergent evolution, different species independently develop characteristics not present in their shared predecessors. The independent evolution of flight in unrelated species is an example often given to explain the concept of recurrent evolution. The social institution of marriage is a recurrent or convergent cultural phenomenon. Groups of people all over the world have developed the institution of marriage independently — largely, I believe, as a solution to the problem of paternity certainty.
In much the same way, men, who have been charged always and everywhere with protecting and expanding mandalas of order in chaotic environments, seem to have evolved similar idealized versions of themselves in that role. The warrior god-archetype that I refer to as The Striker is prominent in many mythologies, and he is often associated with the sun, the sky, lightning, thunder, and birds of prey.
This month, in The Order of Fire, we’ve been independently studying Native American tribal mythologies, and I came across a remarkable representation of The Striker god-archetype in Apache stories about their culture hero, “Killer-of-Enemies,” or “Naiyenezgani.” Killer-of-Enemies is a monster slayer whose father is the Sun, and in at least one story, he carries a bow that shoots bolts of lightning.
The word Apache describes several related tribal sub-groups whose stories and practices vary substantially from group to group. The information I’m presenting here is limited to what I could find from legitimate source material from the Jicarilla, Chiricahua, Lipan, and White Mountain Apaches native to Arizona and New Mexico, where their contemporary descendants still reside. I discovered some of the same themes in the descriptions of the beliefs of the Mescalero Apache on their website.
The Birth of Killer-of-Enemies
The most detailed account of Killer-of-Enemies’ birth comes from the Jicarilla Apaches, whose stories were recorded and published in the 1930s by anthropologist Morris Edward Opler.
The world creation stories of the Apaches vary considerably, but of particular note is the opening line recorded by Opler.
“In the beginning, nothing was here where the world now stands; there was no ground, no earth,—nothing but Darkness, Water, and Cyclone.” (Opler, 1932)
This beginning from darkness or water seems almost universal mythologically, and it is tempting to link the concept of “cyclone” to “chaos.” However, while in these stories, Cyclone interestingly quarrels with the lightly personified forces of Lightning and Thunder, Cyclone is occasionally benevolent and helpful toward the hero Killer-of-Enemies.
There were supernatural, god-like beings known as the Hactcin, whose existence preceded creation. As they created the material world, “They made Earth in the form of a living woman and called her Mother. They made sky in the form of a man and called him Father. He faces downward, and the woman faces up. He is our father and the woman is our mother.” (Opler, 1932) So here, too, the sky is the firmament and associated with the Father. The sun and moon are created in different stories as natural phenomena but eventually become personified.
For the Jicarilla, the story of Killer-of-Enemies began when two girls wandered away from their group and up into the mountains, where they lived on fruit. When one of the girls was sleeping, the Sun turned into a man who appeared on Earth and had sex with her. On the same night, Water also turned into a man, visited the other girl, and had sex with her.
The girl who slept with the Sun became known as White-Painted Woman, and after four days, she gave birth to a boy who would become Killer-of-Enemies. The girl who slept with Water became White-Shell Woman, and after four days, she gave birth to Child-of-the-Water.
According to the White Mountain Apache version of the story, a maiden went “to the top of a high mountain and came where the rays of the rising Sun first strike. She raised her skirt and the “breath” of the Sun entered her.” (Goddard, 1919) Four days later, she gave birth to Naiyenezgani, the word for “Killer or Slayer of Enemies or Monsters.” In this story, the same woman follows a similar process to create Tobatc’istcini (standardized as Tobadzischini), which roughly means “Child-of-Water.” The birth process for the two heroes seems to have been similar in the Chiricahua stories. According to the Lipan Apache account, Killer-of-Enemies is associated with the sun but is the child of Thunder because his mother was impregnated by rainwater, and he combines the characteristics of Killer-of-Enemies and Child-of-Water (Opler, 1940.)
Journey to the Solar Father
In the Jicarilla telling, Killer-of-Enemies and Child-of-Water grew older in a few days and began asking their mothers on the mountain for toys. Their mothers tell them to go east to see their fathers — though they both go to see the Sun.
On their way to see the Sun, the boys encounter various physical challenges and elemental forces like Big Rain-Storm, Lightning, Mud, Big Hail, and Snake. In most cases, the boys offered pollen and prayers to the forces they encountered and were allowed to proceed. Finally, when they reach the House of the Sun, they meet the Sun’s wife. As they claimed to be the Sun’s offspring, the Sun’s wife became jealous, and this is identified as the birth of jealousy.
“She went inside to the sun. She said, ‘I thought you said you go to the west for a good purpose and never visit other women. You have lied to me. Here are two boys who say you are their father.’” (Opler, 1932)
There’s a parallel here with Hera’s jealousy in the Greek lore, and her desire to torment and work against Zeus’ illegitimate children — most notably, Heracles.
Before admitting that he has fathered children on his travels, the Sun puts the boys through four ordeals — ice, fire, boiling water, and the heat of the Sun. The boys survived these tests because of their supernatural lineage, so the Sun accepted them as his own.
Because Killer-of-Enemies and Child-of-Water traveled there for toys, the Sun took a hoop ring from around himself and gave the children the hoop and pole game.
The Sun remembered that there were great monsters surrounding the boys’ homeland, so he gave each of them a bow made of a rainbow, arrows made of lightning, and a quiver and bow carrier made of mountain lion skin.
Slaying Chaos Monsters
As the story progresses, the teller reveals that Sun and Water impregnated the women to create heroes to save the people from the wild monsters that threatened them.
The first monster mentioned is a minotaur-like creature born when a woman “abused herself” with an elk horn. She gave birth to a giant, evil elk who could “transfix the people with his eyes and they couldn’t run away when he looked at them. So they would stand immovable, and he would come up and kill them. (Opler, 1932)
Like Hercules completing his labors, while he has great power, Killer-of-Enemies also used ingenuity to kill his opponents. He hatched an elaborate plot with a gopher to dig an underground tunnel to place him beneath the heart of the Elk.
Before he started down the tunnel, Killer-of-Enemies, “asked Thunder for power, for Lightning was his arrow.” (Opler, 1932)
After killing the monster elk, Killer-of-Enemies killed some giant eagles that were snatching up full-grown men and feeding on them.
He then deals with He-Kicks-them-in-the-Water, a man who sits by a narrow pass on a mountain road and kicks passersby into the boiling water below. This part of the story is almost identical to one of the six labors of Theseus, in which the robber Sciron forces people to wash his feet beside a cliff and then kicks them off to die on the rocks below or be eaten by a giant tortoise. Killer-of-Enemies and Theseus both gave this monster a taste of his own medicine and threw him off the same cliff where he had murdered others.
Killer-of-Enemies later enlisted the power of the sun to travel “at the speed of light,” among other strategies, to defeat some killer rocks that were propelled by mountain sheep.
To complete the slaying of the monsters that threaten the people, Killer-of-Enemies defeated a giant owl and a giant fish — the leader of the monsters.
After slaying the monsters, Killer-of-Enemies was attacked by sorcerers. The “sorcerers tried to “shoot” him, but their “arrows” merely fell down. And the “arrows” all came back to the sorcerers, and they themselves died. That is what Killer-of-Enemies was here for, to protect the people.” (Opler, 1932)
Killer-of-Enemies eventually left the people after ascending from the role of the Striker to a role more in line with the Father, giving laws and instructions about rituals. It was also suggested that he gave people free will.
“Until Killer-of-Enemies was ready to leave man, man was not living as he does now. All was as though in a dream.190 If the people had been as they are now they would have been frightened and would have run back into the hole of emergence. But when all the monsters were killed and all was at peace, Killer-of-Enemies gave people their own minds and habits, and they began to live as they do now.” (Opler, 1932)
However, the storyteller also noted that after Killer-of-Enemies left, “evil and sorcery came into the lives of men.”
Chiricahua and Lipan Variations
In the stories Opler recorded from the Chiricahua Apaches, Killer-of-Enemies and Child-of-Water had similar adventures, but Killer-of-Enemies was always afraid, and Child-of-Water was the more heroic character.
In the Lipan Apache stories, the teller explains that “Killer-of-Enemies and Child-of-the-Water are two names for the same boy; there was only one boy with these two names.” (Opler, 1940)
This combined character, identified primarily as Killer-of-Enemies, encounters and defeats a monstrous buffalo and an antelope. In this telling, the emphasis is on the Killer-of-Enemies transforming a giant monster who murdered people into a normal-sized version of the species that will serve as a resource for the people. He also defeated giant murdering eagles, reprimanded them, and told them to give the people their feathers for ceremonies.
As in the Jicarilla stories, Killer-of-Enemies also takes on the role of lawgiver and even creator — creating deer and horses. Killer-of-Enemies taught the people raiding and warfare, and arrow-making. When he had finished doing this and dealing with the enemies of the people, he returned home and told his mother what he had done.
“He told her his work was finished. He told her, “The new generation of people is coming. They must do all that I have done. They must follow my way and my rules.”
The White Mountain Apache Story
In the White Mountain Apache telling, Killer-of-Enemies and Child-of-Water were conceived as described above, but were born with slight deformities. When the boys were old enough to run around and intelligent enough to ask questions, they asked about their father, and their mother reluctantly sent them on a journey to see the Sun. In this story, they rode to the Sun on the backs of a Raven and, later, an eagle — feeding both birds bits of meat they had been given to sustain them on the adventure.
When they arrived at the Sun’s house, they were greeted by the Sun’s jealous wife, as in the Jicarilla story. The Sun tested them by pushing them into a blazing hot place with “lightning which had sharp spines.” They survived, and the Sun accepted them as his own. A sweat lodge and bath was prepared, and the sun re-shaped the boys, fixing their deformities so that they looked like men. Then the Sun gave them their names, Naiyenezgani and Tobatc’istcini. The young men then convinced the Sun to provide them with horses to ride down to the Earth. The Sun told them that there were evil things in the world and that they should kill them. He gave Killer-of-Enemies a blue sword and Child-of-Water a bow and arrow. The Sun’s wife gave Killer-of-Enemies a spotted belt with a yellow fringe border.
After returning to the world, Naiyenezgani and Tobatc’istcini encountered a blind man with eyes in the back of his head who was killing people — an enemy (Naiye’) — and they killed him.
The Apache Striker
The Striker god-archetype is the warrior beyond warriors who contends with physical chaos, creating and expanding the perimeter of order. He is the lightning and the storm of heaven who does the dirty, wet work of the more distant, ascended Father in the sky. While men have worshiped gods, our best Striker stories are often about heroic demi-gods — who are perhaps more relatable than deathless superhuman entities.
Achilles, Herakles, Gilgamesh, Perseus, and Cú Chulainn were all half-sons of gods or goddesses. Herakles and Perseus were both sons of Zeus, who descended upon mortal women who were then forced to rear their partially divine sons on Earth — like the Kents raising Superman. These heroic demi-gods are of the people, at once salt-of-the-earth and spawn of the sky. It’s easy to imagine the hero who does what no other man can or will do as having some otherworldly origin — some magical fated blood from beyond that makes him special.
Killer-of-Enemies matches the well-established form of a people’s hero of supernatural origin. He’s the son of the Sun, created intentionally to do battle against monsters, murderers, and enemies of humanity on behalf of a benevolent god. Strikers tend to be associated with storms and lightning, from Indra and Zeus to Thor, so the fact that in one telling, the Sun gives him arrows of lightning is another alignment with our Striker. In another telling, he defeats his enemies, like the monstrous buffalo and antelope, into resources for the people — recalling Indra slaying the dragon Vrtra to release the waters of the world.
One standout feature of the Killer-of-Enemies story is that he is usually accompanied by a more earthly counterpart, Child-of-Water, who we might link loosely to a character like Enkidu in the Gilgamesh story, who is also a man of the earth than the sky.
Another distinct feature of Naiyenezgani’s story is that he is a boy for most of it. In the Jicarilla story of his adventure at the owl’s home, not recounted here, he learns not to disobey the Sun by narrowly escaping death at the hands of a murderous giant owl. (Opler, 1932) As many of the other Apache stories that have come down to us explain simple things about the world, warn children not to disobey, and warn about the dangers of self-abuse and early sex or elaborately explain the purpose of puberty rites — it seems that the primary function of these stories is to educate and inspire children. The stories about Killer-of-Enemies are meant to inspire courage and heroism in boys and young men and initiate them into their roles as protectors and benefactors of the people who may be called on to slay murderers and enemies, as well as dangerous wild beasts who “give themselves” to the people for clothing and sustenance.
Killer-of-Enemies is another reflection and mythic idealization of the man-as-warrior that we can comfortably add to our collection of known Strikers. Each of these myths from around the world can teach us something different about the nature of men and what it means to be an exemplary man who is good at being a man. Each representation of this eternal ideal can add new depth and a new aesthetic dimension to our holistic understanding of men and masculinity and to our understanding and perception of ourselves.
Goddard,Pliny Earle. Myths and Tales from the White Mountain Apache . First published in Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, Vol. XXIV, Part II, by Order of the Trustees, New York, 1919. Owlfoot Press. Kindle Edition.
Opler, Edward Morris. Myths and Tales of the Jicarilla Apache Indians (Native American). Dover Publications. Originally Published 1932. Kindle Edition.
Opler, Morris Edward. Myths and Legends of the Lipan Apache Indians . Originally Published 1940. Borodino Books. Kindle Edition.
Opler, Morris Edward; French, David H.. Myths and Tales of the Chiricahua Apache Indians. Originally Published 1942. Borodino Books. Kindle Edition.
Goddard, Pliny Earle. Jicarilla Apache Texts. First published 1911. Pantianos Classics.
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Author of The Way of Men, Becoming a Barbarian, A More Complete Beast, and Fire in the Dark.