Cherokee mythology

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. Some of these myths go by different names in different branches of the tribe, however, the actual myth remains the same.

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

Creation beliefs

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 to 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, namely 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 forced to have just one child every year.[2]

The Story of Corn and Medicine

The Story of Corn and Medicine begins with the creation of the earth and animals. Earth was created out of mud that grew into a volcano. Animals began exploring the earth, and it was the Buzzard that created valleys and mountains in the Cherokee land by the flapping of his wings. After some time, the earth became habitable for the animals, once the mud of the earth had dried and the sun had been raised up for light.[3]

According to the Cherokee medicine ceremony, the animals and plants had to stay awake for seven nights. Only the owl, panther, and unnamed others were able to fulfill the requirements of the ceremony, so these animals were given the gift of night vision, which allowed them to hunt easily at night. Similarly, the only trees able to remain awake for the seven days were the cedar, pine, spruce, holly, laurel and oak. These trees were given the gift of staying green year-round.[4]

The first woman argued with the first man and left their home. The first man, helped by the sun, tried tempting her to return with blueberries and blackberries but was not successful. He finally persuaded her to return with strawberries.[5]

Humans began to hunt animals and quickly grew in numbers. The population grew so rapidly that a rule was established that women can only have one child per year. Two early humans were Kanáti and Selu. Their names meant "The Lucky Hunter" and "Corn," respectively. Kanáti would hunt and bring an animal home for Selu to prepare. Kanáti and Selu had a child, and their child befriended another boy who had been created out of the blood of the slaughtered animals. The family treated this boy like one of their own, except they called him "The Wild Boy". Kanáti consistently brought animals home when he went hunting, and one day, the boys decided to secretly follow him. They discovered that Kanáti would move a rock concealing a cave, and an animal would come out of the cave only to be killed by Kanáti. The boys secretly returned to the rock by themselves and opened the entrance to the cave. However, the boys didn't realize that when the cave was opened many different animals escaped. Kanáti saw the animals and realized what must have happened. He journeyed to the cave and sent the boys home so he could try to catch some of the escaped animals for eating. This explains why people must hunt for food now.

The boys returned to Selu, who went to get food from the storehouse. She instructed the boys to wait behind while she was gone, but they disobeyed and followed her. They discovered Selu's secret, which was that she would rub her stomach to fill baskets with corn, and she would rub her sides to fill baskets with beans. Selu knew her secret was out and made the boys one last meal. She and Kanáti then explained to the boys that the two of them would die because their secrets had been discovered. Along with Kanáti and Selu dying, the easy life the boys had become accustomed to would also die. However, if the boys dragged Selu's body seven times in a circle, and then seven times over the soil in the circle, a crop of corn would appear in the morning if the boys stayed up all night to watch. The boys did not fulfill the instructions completely, which is why corn can only grow in certain places around earth. Today, corn is still grown, but it does not come overnight.

During the early times, the plants, animals, and people all lived together as friends, but the dramatic population growth of humans crowded the earth, leaving the animals with no room to roam. Humans also would kill the animals for meat or trample them for being in the way. As a punishment for these horrendous acts the animals created diseases to infect the humans with.

Like other creatures, the plants decided to meet, and they came to the conclusion that the animals' actions had to been too harsh and that they would provide a cure for every disease.[6] This explains why all kinds of plant life helps to cure many varieties of diseases. Medicine was created in order to counteract with the animals' punishments.

The Thunder Beings

The Cherokee believe 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. They dress in lightning and rainbows. The priests pray to the thunder and he visits the people to bring rain and blessings from the South. It was believed that the thunder beings who lived close to the Earth's surface in the cliffs, mountains, and waterfalls could harm the people at times, which did happen. These other thunders are always plotting mischief.[7]

Green Corn Ceremony

Cherokee Indians ready for The Green Corn Dance, Cherokee, N. C. (5755511285)
A postcard depicting Cherokee people ready for The Green Corn Dance.

The thunder beings are viewed as the most powerful 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.

Medicine and Disease

It is said that all plants, animals, beasts and people once lived in harmony with no separation between them. At this time, the animals were bigger and stronger until the humans became more powerful. When the human population increased, so did the weapons, and the animals no longer felt safe. The animals decided to hold a meeting to discuss what should be done to protect themselves.

The Bears met first and decided that they would make their own weapons like the humans, but this only led to further chaos. Next the Deer gathered to discuss their plan of action and they came to the conclusion that if a hunter was to kill a Deer, they would develop a disease. The only way to avoid this disease was to ask the Deer's spirit for forgiveness. Another requirement was that the people only kill when necessary. The council of Birds, Insects and small animals met next and they decided that humans were too cruel, therefore they concocted many diseases to infect them with.

The plants heard what the animals were planning and since they were always friendly with the humans, they vowed that for every disease made by the animals, they would create a cure. Every plant serves a purpose and the only way to find the purpose is to discover it for yourself.[3] When a medicine man does not know what medicine to use, the spirits of the plants instruct him.[8]

The Great Spirit

The Cherokee revered the Great Spirit, simply referred to as Unetlanvhi, or "Creator", who presided over all things and created the Earth.[9] The Great Spirit is said to be omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. The Unetlanvhi was said to have made the earth to provide for its children. The Wahnenauhi Manuscript says that God is Unahlahnauhi, meaning "maker of all things" and Kalvlvtiahi, meaning "The one who lives above". In most myths the Great Spirit is not personified as having human characteristics or a physical human form.[9]

Other Venerated Spirits

Signs, Visions, and Dreams

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.

Spiritual beings can come in the form of animal or human and are considered a part of daily life. A group of spiritual beings are spoken about as Little People and they can only be seen by man when they want to be seen. It is said that when they choose who they present themselves to and appear as any other Cherokee would, except they are small with very long hair.[12] The Little People can be helpful but one should be cautious while interacting with them because they can be very deceptive.[13] It is not common to talk about an experience one has with the Little People. Instead, you could relay an incident told to you about someone else's experience.[4] It is said that if you bother the Little People too often you will become confused in your day-to-day life when you would normally not be.[12] Although they possess healing powers and helpful hints, the Little People are not to be disturbed.[4]


Traditionally there is no universal evil spirit corresponding to Satan in Cherokee Theology. An Asgina is any sort of spirit, but it is usually considered to be a malevolent one.[14] Uya, sometimes called Uyaga, is an evil earth spirit which is invariably opposed to the forces of right and light.[15] 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 who knew how to drive Kalona Ayeliski off, since they were scared of him.[16]


  • 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. ^ a b Norton, Terry L. (2016). Cherokee Myths and Legends: Thirty Tales Retold. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland
  4. ^ a b c Parker, G. K. (2005). Seven Cherokee Myths: Creation, Fire, the Primordial Parents, the Nature of Evil, the Family, Universal Suffering, and Communal Obligation. McFarland.
  5. ^ Neufeld, Rob (July 29, 2018). "Visiting Our Past: Asheville before Asheville: Cherokee girls, De Soto's crimes". Asheville Citizen-Times. Retrieved July 29, 2018.
  6. ^ "The Story of Corn and Medicine". Creation Stories from around the World. University of Georgia. Retrieved 12 November 2016.
  7. ^ Mooney, James (1966). Myths of the Cherokee. Bureau of American Ethnology. pages 257
  8. ^ Mooney, James (1966). Myths of the Cherokee. Bureau of American Ethnology. pages 250-252
  9. ^ a b Lewis, Orrin; Redish, Laura. "Legendary Native American Figures: Unetlanvhi (Ouga)". Native Languages of the Americas. Retrieved 23 November 2016.
  10. ^ Rodning, Christopher B. (2015). Center Places and Cherokee Towns: Archaeological Perspectives on Native American Architecture and Landscape in the Southern Appalachians. Tuscaloosa: University Press of Alabama. p. 40. ISBN 9780817387723.
  11. ^ Miller, Jay (2015). Ancestral Mounds : Vitality and Volatility of Native America. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. p. 18. ISBN 9780803278998.
  12. ^ a b Cherokee Nation. (2016). The traditional belief system. Retrieved from
  13. ^ Duncan, Barbara R., Davey Arch, and Inc Netlibrary. (1998). Living Stories of the Cherokee. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina.
  14. ^ Kilpatrick, Jack Frederick (1966). The Wahnenauhi Manuscript: Historical Sketches of the Cherokee. Smithsonian Institution. pages 185
  15. ^ Kilpatrick, Jack Frederick & Anna Gritts (1970). Notebook of a Cherokee Shaman. Smithsonian Institution. pages 100
  16. ^ Jack Frederick Kilpatrick. The Wahnenauhi Manuscript: Historical Sketches of the Cherokee. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1966
Cecil Dick

Cecil Dick, or Degadoga (1915–1992) was a well-known Cherokee artist often referred to as "the Father of Cherokee Traditional Art". Cecil, born near Rose Prairie, Oklahoma, was one of the pioneers of 20th-century, flat-style painting among Eastern Woodland tribes in Oklahoma. He was enrolled in the Cherokee Nation and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians.

During childhood, he spoke only Cherokee. He became an orphan when he was 12 years old, and was raised in Cherokee boarding schools. After one year, he left Santa Fe and returned to Oklahoma.Dick did not paint on a regular schedule, but only when he felt like doing so. He regularly worked as a draftsman and as a sign painter to support himself. Hence his art work is relatively rare. He also became known as an authority on Cherokee mythology and the written Cherokee languageCecil Dick became the first Native American to win the Oklahoma Artists Exhibition at Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa. In 1983 Cecil was honored for his intellectual and artistic achievements with the Sequoyah Medal by the Cherokee Nation. The Cherokee Heritage Association held a 50-year retrospective exhibition of his lifetime work that same year. In 1991, the Five Civilized Tribes Museum in Muskogee, Oklahoma named the "Cecil Dick Master of Heritage Award" in his honor. This award is given out during its annual Competitive Art Show to recognize outstanding paintings in the flat-style.

His obituary stated that some of his paintings were in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D. C.,

the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Tulsa's Gilcrease Museum and the Five Civilized Tribes Museum in Muskogee.Cecil died in 1992 in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, (respectful correction: He died at a Tulsa Hospital but lived in Tahlequah) having spent over 50 years recording Cherokee culture and history in his art. He was a great man who loved the earth.

In 1996, a group of Talequah physicians donated an original Dick acrylic mural to the Cherokee Nation. One of the physicians, Dr. Ed Painter, had commissioned the work in 1960, and hung it in the Tahlequah Medical Center. The mural is 4 feet (1.2 m) tall by 15 feet (4.6 m) wide. Titled "The Curing of the Fever," it portrays Cherokee healing practices before the initial contact with white men.Native American art experts reportedly appraised the auction value of the mural in the range of $65,000 to $100,000.

Cherokee calendar

The Cherokee calendar is defined by the seasonal round of ceremonies practiced by the Cherokee people. Although a modern calendar year comprises 12 months, there are actually 13 cycles or phases of the moon in the Cherokee calendar. The seasonal round of ceremonies is considered a necessary spiritual element for social cohesion and encourage gatherings among the Cherokee clans and Cherokee society.


Ghigau (Cherokee: ᎩᎦᎤ) or Agigaue (Cherokee:ᎠᎩᎦᎤᎡ) is a Cherokee prestigious title meaning "beloved woman" or "war woman".The title was a recognition of great honor for women who made a significant impact within their community or exhibited great heroism on the battlefield. When a woman was bestowed as a Ghigau she was given great honor and responsibility. The role has changed in Cherokee culture, but the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians still have Beloved Women today.


The Cherokee believe the ancient settlement of Kituwa (also spelled Kituwah, Keetoowah, Kittowa, Kitara and other similar variations) or giduwa (Cherokee:ᎩᏚᏩ), on the Tuckasegee River is their original settlement and is one of the "seven mother towns" in the Southeast. It is in Swain County, North Carolina, in the Great Smoky Mountains, near present-day Bryson City.

List of wind deities

A wind god is a god who controls the wind(s). Air deities may also be considered here as wind is nothing more than moving air. Many polytheistic religions have one or more wind gods. They may also have a separate air god or a wind god may double as an air god. Sometimes even a water god.

Mythologies of the indigenous peoples of the Americas

The indigenous peoples of the Americas comprise numerous different cultures. Each has its own mythologies. Some are quite distinct, but certain themes are shared across the cultural boundaries.


The Nun'Yunu'Wi (Cherokee: "dressed in stone") is a monster of Cherokee mythology. It is described as a human-like being with a skin as hard as stone, which no weapon can pierce. It carries a magical cane which points out victims and has other magical powers. Despite its monstrousness, it is described as a powerful sorcerer or medicine man. It devours human beings.

According to the myth, the Nun'Yunu'Wi was led by its cane to a village. However, the village had been warned in advance by a hunter who had spotted the creature in the mountains. The medicine man warned the villagers that, though the monster would be very difficult to kill with weapons, it could not bear the sight of a menstruating woman. So seven such women were assembled and placed in front of the village. After the monster had seen them all, it was weakened so much that it could not move. The medicine man then burned the creature, and its remains contained a great jewel and lumps of red paint.


The Nunnehi are a race of immortal spirit people in Cherokee mythology. In the Cherokee language, Nunnehi literally means "The People Who Live Anywhere", but it is often translated into English as "The People Who Live Forever", or simply "The Immortals". The Cherokee believed the Nunnehi to be a type of supernatural human being, completely distinct from ghosts and nature spirits, as well as from gods. In this sense, the Nunnehi (along with the Yunwi Tsunsdi, or "Little People" in the Cherokee language) are the Cherokee equivalent of fairies in traditional European folklore. The belief in fairy-like beings is universal among all ethnicities, including all American Indian tribes.According to Cherokee folklore, the Nunnehi had many underground townhouses throughout the southern Appalachian Mountains, and they were particularly fond of high mountain peaks where no timber ever grew. Hunters would often hear the Nunnehi in the mountains, singing and dancing and beating drums, but when they would go toward the sound, it would shift about and suddenly seem to be coming from behind them or from some other direction, so that the person hearing the sound would never be able to find where it was coming from.

Raven Mocker

The Raven Mocker, or Kâ'lanû Ahkyeli'skï, is an evil spirit and the most feared of Cherokee witches. According to Cherokee mythology it robs the sick and dying of their heart. Normally appearing as old, withered men and women, or turning completely invisible except to certain medicine men, they take to the air in a fiery shape, with the sounds of a raven's cry and a strong wind as they hunt for their next victim. After tormenting and killing their victim by slitting the victim's head they consume his heart (doing so without leaving a mark on the victim's skin), and add a year to their life for every year that the slain would have still lived. The sound of a raven mocker means that someone in the area will soon die.

Raven mockers are normally invisible when feeding, but those with strong medicine can not only spot them but cause them to die within seven days. Medicine men will sometimes stand guard over the dying to prevent raven mockers from stealing the heart of the afflicted.

Raven mockers are feared and envied by the other witches of Cherokee folklore, and their bodies may be abused by said witches after death.


SELU or selu may refer to:

Sailu, a town in Maharashtra, India, also known as Selu

Southeastern Louisiana University

Cherokee mythology for maize

Selu: Seeking the Corn-Mother's Wisdom, a book by Marilou Awiakta

Standing Indian Mountain

Standing Indian Mountain, elevation 5,499 feet, is part of the North Carolina portion of the Southern Nantahala Wilderness within the boundaries of the Nantahala National Forest. The mountain lies along the Appalachian Trail and is the highest point along the Nantahala River.


A thunderbolt or lightning bolt is a symbolic representation of lightning when accompanied by a loud thunderclap. In Indo-European mythology, the thunderbolt was identified with the 'Sky Father'; this association is also found in later Hellenic representations of Zeus and Vedic descriptions of the vajra wielded by the god Indra. It may have been a symbol of cosmic order, as expressed in the fragment from Heraclitus describing "the Thunderbolt that steers the course of all things".In its original usage the word may also have been a description of the consequences of a close approach between two planetary cosmic bodies, as Plato suggested in Timaeus, or, according to Victor Clube, meteors, though this is not currently the case. As a divine manifestation the thunderbolt has been a powerful symbol throughout history, and has appeared in many mythologies. Drawing from this powerful association, the thunderbolt is often found in military symbolism and semiotic representations of electricity.


Trahlyta was a woman in Cherokee legend who is said to have lived in the North Georgia Mountains near present-day Dahlonega in the United States. Trahlyta supposedly drank from a nearby Fountain of Youth to maintain her renowned beauty. The warrior Wahsega courted her, but Trahlyta rejected his courtship, and the angered warrior kidnapped and imprisoned Trahlyta in some unknown location away from the beauty's mountain home. Trahlyta longed to see her home again, but her captor did not relent, and she grew weak and died.

Her dying wish, according to the legend, was to be buried in the mountain forests whence she came. According to the historical marker at the site of her supposed grave, "custom arose among the Indians and later the Whites to drop stones, one for each passerby, on her grave for good fortune." Today there is a pile of stones reaching at least five feet high.

Trahlyta's beloved home was said to be in the vicinity of Cedar Mountain. Her "fountain of youth" is often associated with nearby Porter Springs, where a resort community operated in the late 1800s and early 1900s for people who believed the waters had healthful properties. The site of the rockpile over her alleged grave, complete with a historical marker, is called Stonepile Gap. These are all minor tourist attractions.


In mythology, and in the study of folklore and religion, a trickster is a character in a story (god, goddess, spirit, human, or anthropomorphisation), which exhibits a great degree of intellect or secret knowledge, and uses it to play tricks or otherwise disobey normal rules and conventional behaviour.

Tsul 'Kalu

Tsul 'Kalu (the slant-eyed or sloping giant) is a legendary figure of Cherokee mythology who plays the role of "the great lord of the game", and as such is frequently invoked in hunting rites and rituals.


Wampus may refer to:

Wampus cat, a legendary creature in Cherokee mythology that supposedly still haunts the forests of East Tennessee

Wampus Multimedia, an American record label and media company founded by Mark Doyon

Mountain wampus, a fictional creature in the 1983 video game M.U.L.E.

Wampus Cats aka Beale Street Wampus Cats, an American blues band featuring Oscar "Buddy" Woods

Politics and law

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