Mythology & Sacred Concepts:
While a Great Spirit constitutes the basis of
Indian theory, the tribes
believe in multiple deities, which are surrounded by mythology. In
accordance with their views of nature and spirit, they constantly appeal
to these powers, at every step of their lives. They hear the great Spirit
in every wind; see him in every cloud; fear him in sounds, and adore him
in every place that inspires awe. While cultures and customs varied among the
tribes, they all believed that the universe was bound together by spirits
of natural life, including animals, water, plants, the sky, and the Earth
American culture struggled to survive after the white man invaded
their lives. Living through forced moves, war, starvation, diseases, and
assimilation, these strong and spiritual people managed to keep their many
legends and stories alive. Passed down through the generations,
these many tales speak of timeless messages of peace, life, death, and
harmony with nature.
The sacred beliefs of many
tribes are largely
formulated and expressed in sayings and narratives having some resemblance
to the legends of European peoples. There are available large collections
of these tales and myths from the
others. In these, much interesting information can be found. Though each
tribe has its own beliefs and sacred myths, many have much in common.
A deluge or flood myth is almost universal in
Plains tribes as well as with the Woodland Indians. Almost everywhere
it takes the form of having the submerged earth restored by a more or less
human being who sends down a diving bird or animal to obtain a little mud
or sand. Of other tales with common threads are the "Twin-heroes" – the
Woman who married a star and bore a Hero," and the "Woman who married a
Dog." A star-born hero is found in myths of the
Kiowa, Gros Ventre, and
Blackfoot. Indian mythologies often
contain large groups of tales reciting the adventures of a distinguished
mythical hero with supernatural attributes, who transforms and in some
instances creates the world, who rights great wrongs, and corrects great
evils, yet who often stoops to trivial and vulgar pranks. Among the
Blackfoot, for instance, he appears under the name of Napiw, also called
"Old Man." He is distinctly human in form and
name. The Gros Ventre,
Mandan seem to have
a similar character in their mythology.
The "Old Man" also appears in the
mythologies of the adjoining culture areas, such as the area between the
Plains and the Pacific Ocean. Some tales appear similar, but are
attributed to an animal character with the name and attributes of a
coyote. Under this name he appears among the
Nez Perce, and
on the western fringe of the Plains, but rarely among the
Dakota and practically never among the
tribes designating him as
human. Among the
Omaha, this hero is given a
spider like character called Unktomi.
In addition to heroes, many animal tales are
to be found, which often explain the structural peculiarities of animals
as due to some accident. For example, the
trickster, while in a rage tried to pull the lynx asunder, causing it to
have a long body and awkward legs. In other cases, the tales narrate an
anecdote about origin or life itself. In some tales, the ending includes
how some aspect of life was "ordered to be," explaining a natural
phenomena or mythical belief.
are also tales in which supernatural beings appear in the form of
well-known animals and assist or grant favors to humans. In the mythology
is a favorite character and is seldom encountered in the mythology from
other areas. The bear, beaver, elk, eagle, owl, and snake are also
frequently referred to, but also occur in the myths of Woodland and other
imaginary creatures the most conspicuous are the water monster and the
thunderbird. The former is usually an immense horned serpent who keeps
under water and who fears the thunder. The thunder-bird is an eagle-like
being who causes thunder.
Migration legends and those accounting for the
origins and forms of tribal beliefs and institutions make up a large
portion of the mythology, formulating a concept of the religion and
philosophy of various groups.
of America, updated November, 2011.
"In ages past, our old
ones were the storytellers. This was the way things were passed along to
the generations that followed. For this reason the aged people made it a
point to remember every detail so they could relate it at a later time.
They were the word and picture carriers making history and spirtual values
alive and important. In recent times we have made our old ones think they
are not so important. We spoof their stories and make them feel foolish.
The truth is that we are ignorant of what is precious and how to 'a da li
he li tse di -- appreciate age. Rigidity can creep in and set even the
young mind if there are no soft memories, no laughter, no times too deep
for tears. Age is grace -- a time too valuable to waste."
-- Joyce Sequichie
Hifler from her book A Cherokee Feast of Days
American Proverbs & Wisdom
American Rituals and Ceremonies
Role of Astronomy and Mythology In Native American Culture
The legend of the peacepipe, 1915.
This image available for
photographic prints and downloads