In mythology a deep-going difference between the three culture areas again appears. The Northwestern mythologies are characterized primarily by a very deeply impressed conception of a previous, now vanished, race, who by first living the life and
performing the actions of mankind were the producers of all human institutions and arts as well as of some of the phenomena of nature. Second in importance in the Northwest are myths dealing with culture-heroes more or less of the trickster type familiar from so many other parts of North America.
In Central California there is always a true creation of the world, of mankind, and of its institutions. The conception of the creator is often quite lofty, and tricky exploits or defeats are usually not connected with him. Often there is an antithesis between this beneficent and truly divine creator and a second character, usually the Coyote, who in part coöperates with the creator but in part thwarts him, being responsible for the death of mankind and other imperfections in the world-scheme. In the northern half of the Central region the creator is generally anthropomorphic, if not, he is merged into one personage with the more or less tricky Coyote. In the southern half of the region the creators seem always to be animals with the dignified and wise eagle as the chief. The myths of the Central region not directly concerned with creation are mostly stories of adventure, of much the same type as European folk and fairy tales. They do not explain the origin of phenomena except in a casual, isolated way, and but rarely are of ceremonial import.
In Southern California there is no creation. The various animate and inanimate existences in the world are born from heaven and earth as the first parents. Sometimes heaven and earth are regarded as the first concrete existences, who were, however, preceded by a series of psychic beings grouped in pairs. The bulk of the Southern origin myth consists of a history of mankind, at first as a single tribe and later centered in the tribe which tells the story. In the successive experiences of this body of people, which are accompanied by more or less journeying, the world is gradually brought to its present stage, and all the institutions of mankind, particularly of the narrating tribe but also of others, are developed. The people are under the leadership of one or two great leaders, at least one of whom always dies or departs after his beneficent directions. The thoroughly Southwestern and Pueblo character of this long origin myth is obvious. It is usually followed to a greater or less extent by migration
legends recounting the wandering and conflicts of different tribes or clans. The remaining myths are in plot essentially not very different from the adventure stories of the Central region, but both much longer and more elaborate, and at the same time distinctively ritualistic in that they form the basis or framework of the singing ceremonies that have been described. As these ceremonies themselves are nothing but myths, there is neither need nor room for traditionary accounts explaining the origin of the ceremonies.
An identification of myth and ceremony that is in many ways similar to that prevalent in Southern California is characteristic also of the Northwestern region, where the formulae which constitute the essential religious elements, as well as being the direct means, of most supernatural accomplishment, are nothing but myths. The Northwestern formula is a myth, rarely a direct prayer, and practically every more serious myth is either in whole or in part also a formula. In purpose, however, as well as in rendering, the spoken myth-formulae of the Northwest and the sung myth-ceremonies of the South are different, the former having always a definite practical result in view, whereas the latter have no aim other than their own recital.
Thus the mythology of Southern California resembles that of the Southwest rather than that of the remainder of the state. That of the Northwestern region shows affinities to the North Pacific Coast in its prevalence of the culture-hero and trickster over the creator. The most marked special characteristic of the Northwestern mythology, other than its practical use of myths for religious purposes in the shape of formulas, is its strong and definite, though inconsistently carried out, idea of the previous race which is parallel to but distinct from mankind, and which is the originator, not by any act of creation but by merely living its life, of everything human except mankind itself, the origin of which is never accounted for. This idea of a previous supernatural race analogous to mankind crops out to some extent in almost all North American mythologies, and particularly in other parts of California; but it seems nowhere to be so deep-seated and so freely expressed as in this region. The members of this vanished race are almost always strictly human, in Northwestern
California, and not animals or personifications. They are nothing but men, living the life of the Indians, transposed into a mythic supernatural age, and by the fact of their mere existence regarded as the originators of the present condition of the world. They therefore leave no room for a creator, and but little for the culture hero, whose exploits, when not of purely personal significance, consequently consist mainly of the destruction of evil beings.
If the mythology of Northwestern California in spite of its partial northern affinities accordingly has a dominant character all its own, the same is also true of the larger, more representative Central region. A true creator, and a full and consistent attempt at an account of the creation, are found nowhere else in North America, or at least only sporadically and carried out with an apparently much less degree of thoroughness. The remainder of the Central Californian mythology however scarcely presents any unique qualities, even some of the specific myth-episodes, such as the favorite one of the bear and deer children, being found over considerable territories outside of California. Even the important characteristic of the presence of creation-myths is in a measure a negative one, for from a world view some approach to such a myth may be expected among most peoples, whether primitive or civilized, and it is primarily only in America that special bents of mind and of religious thought have supplanted the idea of creation by the culture hero, the tribal history, and other conceptions. We are therefore not far from right if we regard the unique development of creation myths over the greater part of California as merely a part of a general tendency of the California Indians towards simplicity and lack of strongly marked peculiar and American qualities in any one direction, a tendency which has already been emphasized in other aspects of their religion, and which must be said to characterize their whole life and culture.
Ideas to the world and the existence of the dead vary from tribe to tribe but present nothing specially distinctive. The world is usually regarded as surrounded by water, sometimes as floating upon it. It is often secured by four or five pillars, ropes, or other supports. Beyond where earth and sky meet there is
often another land. The dead sometimes go below, sometimes above, sometimes across the ocean to the west, and sometimes to more or less distant parts of this earth. The entrance to the world of the dead is pointed out by some tribes. People who have temporarily died have been there and returned to describe it. Dances constitute the principal occupation of the dead. No ideas of future rewards and punishments based on conduct in this life have yet been found. If such ideas exist they must be very scantily developed. As in other parts of the world, there are occasional ideas of transmigration of souls into animals, but these conceptions are nowhere systematically worked out or of an religious importance.