Cherokee mythology

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The water spider is said to have first brought fire to the inhabitants of the earth in the basket on her back.[1]

This article concerns itself with the Spiritual beliefs of the Cherokee, Native Americans indigenous to the Appalachias, and today are enrolled in the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Cherokee Nation, and United Keetowah Band of Cherokee Indians.

Creation beliefs[edit]

The Cherokee creation belief describes the earth as a great floating island surrounded by seawater. It hangs from the sky by cords attached at the four cardinal points. The story tells that the first earth came to be when Dâyuni'sï (Beaver's Grandchild), the little Water beetle came from Gälûñ'lätï, the sky realm, to see what was below the water. He scurried over the surface of the water, but found no solid place to rest. He dived to the bottom of the water and brought up some soft mud. This mud expanded in every direction and became the earth, according to the account recorded in 1900 by the Bureau of American Ethnology.

The other animals in Gälûñ'lätï were eager to come down to the new earth, and first birds were sent to see if the mud was dry. Buzzard was sent ahead to make preparations for the others, but the earth was still soft. When he grew tired, his wings dipped very low and brushed the soft mud, gouging mountains and valleys in the smooth surface, and the animals were forced to wait again. When it was finally dry they all came down. It was dark, so they took the sun and set it in a track to run east to west, at first setting it too low and the red crawfish was scorched. They elevated the sun several times in order to reduce its heat.

The story also tells how plants and animals acquired certain characteristics, and is related one of their medicine rituals. They all were told to stay awake for seven nights, but only a few animals such as owl and panther succeeded and they were given the power to see and prey upon the others at night. Only a few trees succeeded as well, cedar, pine, spruce and laurel, so the rest were forced to shed their leaves in the winter.

The first people were a brother and sister. Once the brother hit his sister with a fish and told her to multiply. Following this, she gave birth to a child every seven days and soon there were too many people, so women were then forced to have just one child every year.[2]

The Great Spirit[edit]

The Cherokee revered the Great Spirit, simply referred to as Unetlanvhi or "the Apportioner", who presided over all things and created the Earth.[citation needed] Great Spirit is said to be omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. Also called "Creator", he was said to have made the earth to provide for her children. The Wahnenauhi Manuscript says that God is Unahlahnauhi, meaning "maker of all things" and Kalvlvtiahi, meaning "The one who lives above".

Signs, visions, dreams[edit]

The Cherokee held that signs, visions, dreams, and powers were all gifts of the spirits, and that their world was intertwined with and presided over by the spirit world.

Other venerated spirits[edit]

The Cherokee believed that every aspect and thing had a spirit presiding over it.[citation needed]

The thunder beings[edit]

The Cherokee held that there is the Great Thunder and his sons, the two Thunder Boys, who live in the land of the west above the sky vault. The lightning and the rainbow are their beautiful dress. The priests pray to the thunder and he visited the people to bring the rains and blessings from the South. It was believed that the thunder beings who lived close to the Earth's surface, in the cliffs and mountains, and under water falls could and did harm the people at times. These other thunders are always plotting mischief.[3]

Green corn ceremony[edit]

The thunder beings are viewed as the most powerful of the servants of the Apportioner (Creator Spirit), and are revered in the first dance of the Green Corn Ceremony held each year, as they are directly believed to have brought the rains for a successful corn crop.


Traditionally there is no universal evil spirit, corresponding to Satan, in Cherokee Theology. Properly an Asgina is any sort of spirit, but it is usually considered to be a malevolent one.[4] Uya, sometimes called Uyaga is an evil earth spirit which is invariably opposed to the forces of right and light.[5] There is also Nun'Yunu'Wi, an evil spirit monster who preys on humans, and Kalona Ayeliski (Raven Mocker). These spirits preyed on the souls of the dying and would torment their victims until they died. After which they would eat the heart of the victim. Kalona Ayeliski are invisible, except to a medicine man, and the only way to protect a potential victim was to have a medicine man which knew how to drive Kalona Ayeliski off, since they were scared of him.[6]

Animals, plants, and disease[edit]

It is also believed that all human disease and suffering originated from animal spirits, ghosts or witchcraft. It is also believed that the plants, in response to witnessing the suffering in the world, made a medicine to cure each sickness that entered the world. When the Medicine Man does not know what medicine to use the spirits of the plants tell him.[7]


  • Jack Frederick Kilpatrick. The Wahnenauhi Manuscript: Historical Sketches of the Cherokee. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1966.
  • Jack Frederick Kilpatrick, Anna Gritts Kilpatrick. Notebook of a Cherokee Shaman. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1970.
  1. ^ Powell, J. W. Nineteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, Part 1, 1897-98. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1900. Page 242.
  2. ^ Sproul, Barbara C. (1979). Primal Myths. HarperOne HarperCollinsPublishers. ISBN 978-0-06-067501-1.  pages 254-255
  3. ^ Mooney, James (1966). Myths of the Cherokee. Bureau of American Ethnology.  pages 257
  4. ^ Kilpatrick, Jack Frederick (1966). The Wahnenauhi Manuscript: Historical Sketches of the Cherokee. Smithsonian Institution.  pages 185
  5. ^ Kilpatrick, Jack Frederick & Anna Gritts (1970). Notebook of a Cherokee Shaman. Smithsonian Institution.  pages 100
  6. ^ Jack Frederick Kilpatrick. The Wahnenauhi Manuscript: Historical Sketches of the Cherokee. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1966
  7. ^ Mooney, James (1966). Myths of the Cherokee. Bureau of American Ethnology.  pages 250-252