MOUNT KATAHDIN’S ANGRY GOD: PAMOLA
I dedicate this post to my newest sister Pamela, who discovered me in February, 2012. Her name is just too similar to the Abanaki god Pamola, so I was thinking of her as I was writing this post.
Then, during our Beanery Writers Group meeting I assigned a prompt: Since it’s National Poetry Month the prompt was to write 1-3 poems in the time allowed. My poem was the followoing limerick:
I have a new sister Pamela
how does she resemble Pamola
she’d have to be ugly
and, oh, so much angry
I do not think she’s like Pamola.
“If you look closely you can even see Mt. Katahdin today,” the guide told them, pointing west. “Katahdin is an Indian name meaning The Greatest Mountain—it is sixty miles (north or west?) of here and rises high over all the other mountains found in this region. Some Indians believe it is the home of the storm god Pamola, and it should be avoided. Often it is undetectable, because it is shrouded by a mountain-covering fog.” —a line from my novel-being-birthed, Intertwined Love.
Madame Rosalie de Leval, Monsieur de la Roche, and Gen. Henry Jackson were on the summit of Schoodic Mountain in Hancock County, Maine, when their guide spoke those words.
Curious, and wondering whether to add more information to the guide’s statement, I did my usual: I entered the god Pamola into the Internet search engine and took off.
Human religion and mythology almost always place the gods on the highest possible pinnacle…Zeus on Mt. Olympus, Moses on a rarefied air of a lofty peak…then there is Pamola on Katahdin Mountain, as related in an Abenaki legend.
This legend tells that the spirits of nature once held their yearly conferences in the woods but were unhappy because humans sneaked behind tree trunks to spy on them, or else disturbed them with noise and chatter in the distance. They needed a place where the animals of the woods and the Indians could not or would not go. The spirits gathered in council and soon agreed that the solution was to build a mountain. Whereupon pillar of solid rock rose out of the ground with a thunderous noise, spilling boulders across the landscape, until it towered over the older hills. Now, between mortals and the gods lay a mysterious layer of clouds. The gods could confer on the tablelands—long alpine meadows strewn with broken rocks and scrub growth—and the secrets of nature would be safe. They decreed, “No mortal shall ever climb this mountain beyond where the trees and bushes grow.”*
Thus, the Abenaki Indians consider the barren, cloudy timberline of a mountain such as Katahdin was sacred ground, a meeting place for the gods. “Do not go where men stand taller than the trees,” a proverb warned.
One of the Abenaki spirits, Bahmolai—called Pamola by less agile tongues—delights storytellers and historians. This spirit is also known as the Storm Bird, the god of Thunder and protector of the mountain. A Catholic missionary translated Pamola’s name as He Curses on the Mountain and branded him a demon.
The Indians described Pamola as having the head of a moose, the body of a man, and the wings of an eagle. Another description is that Pamola has a head and face as large as four horses, and shaped like that of a man. His body, form and feet, are those of an eagle and his strength is such that he can take up a moose with one of his arrow-like claws…a hideously destructive creature…an eagle-like monster with a large head and the body and feet of an eagle, who feeds on moose and lives on the top of the mountain in the clouds, ready to tear to pieces anyone who should climb to the summit…a beak for a nose…
Pamola was snubbed by the gods and never invited to their meetings on the tablelands, for he was ugly… Wild with anger, he screamed gusty daggers of words, cursing his fellow gods. His tantrum stirred the winds.*
“Let him rage,” signed the gods. “For what are his words but loose air.”*
Kabeyun, god of the West Wind, soothed the tempest Pamola stirred up. When it was quiet once again, and the gods continued their council, Pamola paced resentfully in the shadows just beyond their campfire. His talons raked at the granite slopes. In a final fit of rage, he cleaved open a great gash in the stone; it split the mountain ridge between two jagged peaks, and the gap was as prominent and ugly as a missing tooth. This, the gods noticed. Pamola was thereafter confined to that cleft in the rocks whenever the gods met, and it bore his name.*
Pamola lived a lonely life, his home was deep in a cave set high in a granite wall, well above the treeline. He slept on a bed of ice and a pillow of snow, safe from the heat of July… he gazed down at the mountain he considered his own—it had a clear view into the woods below…It was easy to spot intruders…he hurled boulders at them, setting avalanches of rock in motion until the intruders were dead, their bones crushed, or else driven away in terror.*
And that, my friends, my readers, is the legend of the Abenaki god, Pamola.
Mt. Katahdin, Maine’s highest mountain, is in Baxter State Park in Northern Maine about 25 miles northwest of Millinocket. The thick fog on the summit called Pamola’s Plumes.