Stories of Natural Wonder
Among the most renowned geological features are those so bizarrely spectacular that one wonders what could possibly have led to their creation. Prior to the age of science and technology, our ancestors commonly incorporated the landscape into religion and folklore. Here are traditional stories surrounding three natural wonders.
This landmark is found in Wyoming, USA. Although widely referred to as Devils Tower, there are various bear-related native american names for this feature such as Bear's House. This is because indigenous populations attributed the vertical striations to the climbing attempts of a giant bear. As to why it was trying to climb the rock, there are a few versions of the story; here are two.
- A group of girls went out to play and were spotted by several giant bears, who began to chase them. In an effort to escape the bears, the girls climbed atop a rock, fell to their knees, and prayed to the creator to save them. Hearing their prayers, the creator made the rock rise towards the heavens so that the bears could not reach the girls. In their efforts to climb the new rock face, the bears left deep claw marks. When the girls reached the sky, they were turned into the cluster of stars that make up the Pleiades.
- Two boys wandered far from their village and were spotted by Mato the bear, a huge creature that had claws the size of tipi poles. Mato wanted to eat them for breakfast. He was almost upon them when the boys prayed to the creator to help them. They then rose up on a huge rock and when Mato tried to get up he left scratch marks all over. Finally, he sauntered off, disappointed and discouraged. The boys were helped off the rock by an eagle and returned to their village.
The Sacred Cenote
Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula is completely devoid of river systems. Instead, there are vast networks of subterranean channels. These channel's only connection to the surface is recessed, pond-like, freshwater features known as cenotes.
Given the lack of traditional surface water, cenotes were crucial water sources for ancient Mayan settlements. Chichen Itza was built near one that became famed as the Sacred Cenote. The bottom of this specific cenote was considered to be one of the few entrances to Xibalba, an underworld that houses the deities responsible for human suffering. Mayans thought that material and human sacrifices to these gods helped to appease their appetite for suffering, so during times of strife priests would hurl precious artifacts and human bodies into the abyssal gateway. If you ever watched the Disney classic The Road to El Dorado, there are scenes that fairly clearly draw reference from the Sacred Cenote.
I feel the urge to mention that while the Sacred Cenote pictured here is not the most spectacular feature, cenotes in general and the underwater channels they connect to are remarkable. I recommend looking into them further on your own.
These neatly geometric rock pillars are found in Northern Ireland. If you are like myself and aren't familiar with the term causeway, it is a road or railway on top of an embankment that usually crosses some sort of water body. The story of this natural causeway not surprisingly involves a giant by the name of Fionn MacCool. Fun fact, there is a chain of restaurants in Canada under his name. Fionn accepts a challenge to fight from a Scottish giant and built the causeway as a means to traverse the ocean channel separating the two. There is actually a corresponding feature on the Scottish coast, so that may have helped inspire this tale.
The Scottish giant ended up being much larger than Fionn could hope to handle. However, Fionn figured this out in advance and with the help of his wife was able to trick his opponent into believing that he was the larger of the two by pretending to be his own baby. The Scottish giant was fooled and fled back across the causeway, destroying it as he went so he could not be followed; an unfortunate move because that causeway would have been very useful for us humans! If the two giants had any sense they would have reconciled and established a toll road.