Fourth World

Encyclopedia Article


Although there are many variations of the creation myth among the indigenous peoples of the Southwest, basic elements of the story are repeated and point to similar historical, spiritual, and ethical concepts. The Navajo origin story, for example, tells of the emergence of the mythological ancestors, the Insect People, from the First World, which was a dark and chaotic underworld. From that first world, the people journeyed through four more realms until they reached their mature existence on Earth as we know it now, which, depending on the version, is known as either the Fourth or the Fifth World. The tales of transitioning through the realms illustrate spiritual and moral development, which, according to the stories, is a search for order and peace that is usually triggered by conflict and misconduct. Above this present existence there is believed to be a Sixth world of perfect harmony.

Whether the current world is numbered the Fourth or the Fifth, in several indigenous traditions, the previous world is remembered as one without color,only black and white. In this last transitional realm before reaching the surface world, First Man and First Woman came into being, and the Insect People, with the help of the gods and the Kisani (Pueblo people) assumed their final human form and were taught how to farm, hunt, speak, and perform ceremonies. They lived in peace for a long time, but then quarrels arose and induced conflicts, hardships, and an eventual flood that destroyed life in the Fourth World and carried the People into the Fifth World. In the Fifth World, the present surface reality, the Dinehtah (the Navajo homeland) was created. The four sacred mountains were established (Mount Blanca in the east, Mount Taylor in the south, the San Francisco Peaks in the west, and Mount Hesperus in the north), and rain was made. Finally, light and color entered the world with the creation of the sun, the moon, and the stars.

In the Hopi tradition, the fourth world is representative of the world the Hopi live in today. Each of the previous worlds are below one another, going deeper into the ground. When the people emerged, they were given permission and guided by the deity Masaw, who had previously been the guardian of the underworld. Taiowa, the Creator, gave Masaw the chance to guard the fourth world after he had lost privileges of guarding the third. Masaw guided the people to their home in Oraibi on Third Mesa and gave them the gift of fire.

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