Agnes Pilgrim

Story 3 – The Five Snow Brothers

Wisdom of Our Elders

In the stories whenever the people face a difficult problem or issue they often turn to an Elder for guidance. It is said that elders are not just smart, they are also wise. They’ve lived a long time and they know how to solve big problems.

An interesting observation in the book “The Third Chimpanzee” by Jared Diamond is that at one time elders were held in high esteem because of the knowledge they accumulated over their life. If we needed to know something about the environment or other people or rituals we would turn to them. But then humans developed writing and books and now all the special knowledge we needed was contained in the pages of a book. So we didn’t need elders anymore for specialized knowledge. Books and now the internet have replaced the power elders once held.

Something that the books cannot give us as powerfully as another human being is wisdom gained by experience and philosophy and spirituality. As we listen to elders like Agnes Pilgrim who are interviewed for this curriculum series we hear them tell stories and share knowledge and wisdom. Just like the Elder archetype in the Hero’s Journey, they are trying to teach and guide us based on what they were taught and through their experiences.

Let’s listen to Agnes Pilgrim and look for wisdoms that she might share as an elder to younger people.

“So, good things happen if we teach in a good way. When we teach reciprocity the Creator blesses. It worked then, it will work now. The prayers that worked way back there, and the ways I was taught by the old ones still work to this day… what they taught me. I pray that people will work on stopping abuse of any kind. Create your kindness. Nobody will give you kindness in your heart; you have to create it yourself. You want kindness; you have to have it in yourself first. When you have kindness, it is almost like a domino effect and it all falls in. I believe that…”

“If you treat a child the way a child should be treated, with love and kindness, he will accept love and kindness. But if you beat and be mean to your child, they are going to go pick up (that behavior). And a girl too. If she has been treated badly at home, she will find somebody to pick her up and marry her, and treat her the same way. It is sick. It is not right for them to think that is the way they get love. Love is not that way. “

I tell people, ‘Sit yourself in another chair and look at you. How are you affecting someone else?’ Have you ever done that? I tell people to sit in another chair. What can you change? I can’t change you. I can only change me. I can’t even change my own kids because that is their job.”

In her interview Agnes shares the teachings she has acquired over a lifetime. What do you think are the wisdoms in her words?

The Five Snow Brothers

A Puget Salish Story

A long time ago, in a time before this time….

A great winter came upon the land. It snowed and snowed for many days, then many weeks. The earth was covered by a great blanket of snow the likes of which no one had seen before.

The snow was so deep that it covered the houses in the village. The people were trapped in their homes unable to hunt or fish or gather. They stated in the houses and helped one another. But after a while the food and supplies began to diminish and the people faced starvation. They dug tunnels in the snow between the houses so they could move from home to home and help each other. After a while the little ones and the elders fell sick because of the cold and hunger. Finally after many weeks the snow began to thaw and melt and the people could leave their homes and walk in the world again. When they looked at each other they were shocked for they had not eaten well in so long, they all looked like walking skeletons!

The people talked about what had happened. They agreed that if another hard winter like this happened again they might not survive. They agreed that before the next winter they should go to the sky world and stop the Five Snow Brothers who bring the snow from creating such a dangerous season.

The animals had also suffered during the terrible winter and heard of the people’s plan. They agreed they would join in the quest to stop the Snow Brothers. In the fall the people and animals knew winter was approaching. They decided it was time to go the sky world. They all gathered.

The strongest of all the people and animals brought out their bows and arrows. One by one they each stepped forward and shot an arrow upwards trying to hit the sky. Each arrow would fly towards the sky and then fall back to the earth. Rabbit tried and failed. Deer tried and could not do it. Eagle tried as did strong human men and women. Bear came forward and even his arrow fell short. No one could do it.

Then little Chickadee came forward carrying a bow made from the rib bone of an elk. As he readied his arrow, all the people and animals laughed at him. They said he was too little and could not hit the sky. Why was he even trying?

Chickadee had a power that no one knew about. His bow had a special power gifted to Chickadee by Elk. When he shot his arrow it flew high into the sky and stuck into the bottom of the sky! He shot another arrow and it stuck to the bottom of the first arrow. He shot arrow after arrow and each one struck the arrow before it. He did this until he created a thin ladder of arrows that extended fro the sky world to the ground.

Woodpecker came forward and using his power, flew around the arrow ladder. Singing his power song Woodpecker caused the arrows to fatten and after a time the arrow ladder was as thick as a tree! Then Woodpecker used his powerful beak and hammered out steps in the ladder all the way to the sky world.

All the people and animals began to climb the ladder. They were going to the sky world to fight the Snow Brothers. All of them climbed up the ladder.

Little Mouse wanted to go too, but everyone said she was too small. She would be of no help everyone said. They told her to stay behind. She would only be in the way. Little Mouse waited until everyone had climbed up the ladder. Then she quietly followed behind them, sneaking up the ladder so no one would see.

When they got to the sky world all the animals and people began to move to the north looking for the house of the Snow Brothers. After a time of traveling and as night approached they came to the house of the Snow Brothers. The brothers were giants and so their house was immense and covered in ice and snow.

The earth beings decided to camp in the forest and attack the giant’s house in the morning. They knew it would be a terrible battle and many would be hurt and some might die, but they were resolved to do this to save themselves and the world. They made fires and went to sleep.

While everyone was sleeping, little mouse appeared. She crept past everyone and went into the house. The Snow Brothers were sleeping in their beds with their great bows beside each bed. Quietly she went to the first bed and using her sharp little teeth gnawed through and broke the bowstring. Then she went to the next brother’s bed and did the same thing, breaking the bowstring. And then the next and the next. It took her a long time, but she would not give up. She was just about to begin chewing on the bowstring of the last brother’s bow when she heard the cries and songs of the people and animals. The sun was rising and they were attacking the house!

The Snow Brothers jumped up and grabbed their bows, ready to fight. But each of the first four found their bowstrings were broken and the bows were useless. They knew that with only one bow to fight with they could not win. They surrendered to the attackers without a fight.

The people and animals told the brothers they must not snow all together in the same place. That much snow and ice would surely kill all the people and animals. They made the Snow Brothers agree to each go to different parts of the sky world to snow. They could never snow together at the same place and time. The Snow Brothers agreed.

That is why it never gets too cold or snows too much in the Puget Sound region. And if it does snow it is not very deep and only stays a few days.

And that is all.

Story Questions

  1. What were the problems that confronted the people?
  1. What was the process they went through to solve the problems in the story?
  1. In this story there is a special place for little ones, the Chickadee and Mouse. What might these characters say to us as we think about the story?
  1. This story explains why winters are relatively mild in the Puget Sound region. What do you think it says about the culture that lives here as well?
  1. Do you see other ways the problems in the story might have been solved? What are those possible alternatives?

Possible Answers

  1. A great and destructive winter came. They needed to get the Snow Brothers to stop the destructive snowing. They needed to get to the sky world. Little Mouse needed to help in the battle.
  1. The people shared and helped one another. They agreed as a group on a solution. They each used their skills to get to the sky world. After defeating the Snow Brothers they got them to agree to a better course of action.
  1. The little ones might represent the people we don’t include in our solutions because they are too small or too young or too old or too poor, etc. We need to include everyone in trying to solve a great problem.
  1. The tribes in Puget Sound feel they can work together and solve common problems because they see they share the environment and can impact it as long as they cooperate just like the natural world around them does.
  1. Each creative answer is possible.

These wisdoms came from experience and repetition and hard lessons. She speaks of kindness, how people respond to the world according to how they are treated, and how people transform. These are very complex topics, but if we listen for the wisdom in her words we can at least get a sense of how we might deal with these issues. There is no convenient way to reach that point of wisdom without having lived a rich and challenging life. And to listen with our hearts as best we can whenever elders seek to teach us.