This story is told in the modern idiom by an ancient guide named ‘Calling Horse’ who came to me in meditation to explain in story the codes of conduct of his tribe. Twelve laws will be illustrated with stories and pictures by artist Alan Nisbet
Law Number Two: YOU MUST NOT MAKE A LIKENESS OF THE GREAT SPIRIT
NOR PORTRAY HIM AS A VISIBLE BEING.
The Carved Eagle Idol
It is can be tempting for those who believe in a god to want to make an idol of that god in order to focus their prayers on the idol. The problem then arises that simple people begin to think that the idol itself is a god. You have the example of the golden calf in the Bible. We too have a similar example in our history.
Once upon a time there was a tribe who decided that although the rules said they should not create an idol, they would do, because after all, it was only going to be a representation of their God. They all knew it was not the real thing and they all agreed that they wanted to gather round something and not to focus on the chief. They knew their chief was not God and some of the elders envied him his god-like position during the ceremonies.
Because he was a weak chief and there were many powerful advisors, he bowed to their desires and agreed that they could make an idol. They set to work. The craftsmen in the village who were good at carving decided to make the eagle. This would be their symbol for the Great Spirit. They carved a large and beautiful bird, its wings outstretched. They mounted it on a tall pole and in the pole they embedded many beautiful gems. It was a very impressive object.
They were all very happy to gather round it and to pray to it. The chief was happy too as it seemed to take some of the pressure off him. All eyes would be focused on the eagle and not on himself. This suited him admirably. For several years this tribe continued to pray to their eagle, and some of them began to forget that it was not actually God. They began to believe that it was God, the Great Spirit Himself. They started to bring offerings to leave at the base of the pole and when the next day the offerings had disappeared –
“See, the Great Spirit has taken our offerings!” they said.
They treated their eagle with the greatest reverence. When they moved camp it was held high and went on before them, blazing a trail, as they saw it. Their antics were observed by an adjacent tribe who saw that they were violating God’s laws. It was decided to show these people the folly of their behavior. After the tribe had settled into their new camp they had a visit from the adjacent chief. He came to parley with their chief. When he pointed to the eagle and asked about it, several members of the party proudly answered that it was their God. “You cannot be serious!” said the visiting chief. “We do not have idols of the Great Spirit!”
“Well, most people don’t, but we do.”
“What would you do without it?” asked the visitor.
“We will never be without it,” they replied.
“Somebody might steal it,” suggested the visiting chief.
“We wouldn’t allow that to happen,” they said.
“Well, we would like to borrow it,” announced the visitor. “And if you don’t let us have it, we will take two of the chiefs’ daughters instead.”
The tribe were outraged and terrified. What would they do without their god? But how could the chief give up his daughters? They were betrothed to two of the sons of the elders who had persuaded him to make the idol. They had to consider this seriously. They had a meeting. The elders whose sons were betrothed were the first to see reason. “As we know, this is not really the Great Spirit, but merely an idol which we made ourselves. We cannot lose anything at all if we give it to them for a while. On the other hand we do not wish to lose our daughters for ever, for certainly they would become pregnant very soon if they left us and we could not accept them back into the tribe.”
“But if we give our God away, our luck will desert us for certain,” said another voice, “We have to give the daughters away.” So went the argument and it became very heated. It was decided to call on the opinion of the people. Those who wanted to give the ‘God’ away should stand on one side and those who wanted to part with the girls instead, should stand on the other. A very small crowd of people wanted to keep the girls. It consisted of the chief, the two elders and their sons who were betrothed to the girls. They were the very same elders who had persuaded the chief to allow the creation of the ‘god’ in the first place. A large crowd gathered round the ‘god’, wanting to keep it. The majority decision had to be followed. The girls were given away. The next night there was a terrible storm and the eagle was struck by lightning. It was split in two and burnt beyond recognition. The girls never returned. The old chief died of a broken heart. A wiser man replaced him and vowed never to build an effigy of God, never ever again.
Idolatry has been very popular in early times, but my story illustrates the drawbacks of the idolaters belief system. It was replaced quite early on by this law, given to the Red Man, that no likeness of God should be made. This was much more empowering to people as they realised that God was all around them, and not limited to one perishable or stealable idol.