Iroquois mythology

Much of the mythology of the Iroquois (a confederacy of originally Five, later Six Nations of Native Americans) has been preserved, including creation stories and some folktales. Recorded in wampum as recitations, written down later, the spellings of names differed as transliteration varies and spellings even in European languages were not entirely regularized. Different versions of some stories exist, reflecting different localities and different times. It is possible that the written versions were influenced by Christianity.

Each village had its own storyteller who was responsible for learning all the stories by heart. No stories were ever told during the summer months. Violations would be punished by the Jo-ga-oh, and if the violator ignored the warning he would suffer greater evils.[1]

Iroquois Indian-Poop decoration mg 8118
19th-century decoration of an unidentified ship: Iroquois Indian sitting on a turtle, in reference to the Great Turtle that carries the Earth in Iroquois mythology. By the sculpture workshop of Brest, France naval arsenal.


This version of the creation story is taken from Converse[1]

The Earth was a thought in the mind of the ruler of a great island floating above the clouds. This ruler was called by various names, among them Ha-wen-ni-yu, meaning He who governs or The Ruler.[2] The island is a place of calm where all needs are provided and there is no pain or death. On this island grew a great apple[note 1] tree where the inhabitants held council. The Ruler said "let us make a new place where another people can grow. Under our council tree is a great sea of clouds which calls out for light." He ordered the council tree to be uprooted and he looked down into the depths. He had Ata-en-sic,[note 2] Sky Woman, look down. He heard the voice of the sea calling; he told Ata-en-sic, who was pregnant, to bring it life. He wrapped her in light and dropped her down through the hole.

All the birds and animals who lived in the great cloud sea were panicked. The Duck asked "where can it rest?" "Only the earth can hold it," replied the Beaver—the oeh-dah from the bottom of our great sea—"I will get some." The Beaver dove down, but never came up. Then the Duck tried, but its dead body floated to the surface. Many of the other birds and animals tried and failed. Finally, the Muskrat returned with some earth in his paws. "It's heavy", he said, "who can support it?" The Turtle volunteered, and the earth was placed on top of his shell. When the earth was ready the birds flew up and carried Ata-en-sic on their wings to the Turtle's back.

This is how Hah-nu-nah, the Turtle, came to be the earth bearer. When he moves the sea gets rough and the earth shakes.

The Do-yo-da-no

Once brought to the surface the oeh-dah grew and became an island. Ata-en-sic heard two voices under her heart and knew her time had come. One voice was calm and quiet, but the other was loud and angry. These were the Do-yo-da-no, The Twins. The good twin, Hah-gweh-di-yu or Teharonhiakwako,[3] was born in the normal way. The evil twin, Hä-qweh-da-ět-gǎh or Sawiskera,[3] forced his way out from under his mother's arm, killing her.[note 3]

After the death of Sky Woman the island was shrouded in gloom. Hah-gweh-di-yu shaped the sky and created the sun from his mother's face saying "you shall rule here where your face will shine forever." Hä-qweh-da-ět-gǎh, however, set the great darkness in the west to drive down the sun. Hah-gweh-di-yu then took the Moon and Stars from his mother's breast, and placed them, his sisters, to guard the night sky. He gave his mother's body to the earth, the Great Mother from whom all life came.

Ga-gaah, the Crow, came from the sun land carrying a grain of corn in his ear. Hah-gweh-di-yu planted the corn above his mother's body, and it became the first grain. Ga-gaah hovers over the corn fields, guarding them from harm but also claiming his share.[1]

Hah-gweh-di-yu, corresponding to the Huron spirit Ioskeha, created the first people. He healed disease, defeated demons, and gave many of the Iroquois magical and ceremonial rituals. Another of his gifts was tobacco, which has been used as a central part of the Iroquois religion.

Hah-gweh-di-yu is aided by a number of assistant or subordinate spirits.


Hé-no, the Iroquois thunder spirit.tiff
Hé-no by Jesse Cornplanter

Hé-no is the spirit of thunder. He is represented as a man dressed as a warrior, wearing on his head a magic feather that makes him invulnerable to the attacks of Hah-gweh-di-yu. On his back he carries a basket filled with pieces of chert which he launches at evil spirits and witches. It is the responsibility of Hé-no to bring rain to nourish the crops. The Iroquois address Hé-no as Tisote (Grandfather).

He once lived in a cave under Niagara Falls. At that time a young girl living above the falls was engaged to marry a disagreeable old man. Rather than marry him she climbed into a canoe and headed down the river. The girl and the canoe were carried over the falls; the canoe was seen falling to destruction, but the girl disappeared. Hé-no and his two (nameless) assistants caught her in a blanket and brought her back to his cave. One of the assistants, taken with her beauty, married her.

Later Hé-no rescued her village from a huge serpent which was devastating it with disease. He lured the serpent to a spot on Buffalo Creek where he struck it with a thunderbolt. Fatally wounded, the serpent tried to escape to the safety of Lake Erie, but died before he could get away. His body floated downstream and stuck at the head of Niagara Falls, stretching nearly across the river and arching backward. The dammed up water broke the rocks, and the whole verge of the Falls along with the snake's body fell onto the rocks below. The break formed Horseshoe Falls, but in the process destroyed Hé-no's home.[2]

The De-oh-há-ko

The name means Our Life or Our Supporters. Often called "The Three Sisters" they are the spirits of corn, beans, and squash. They have the form of beautiful maidens who are fond of each other and like to live near each other. This is an analogy to the plants which grow up together, sometimes from the same hill.[2]

One day while O-na-tah, the spirit of the corn, was wandering alone she was captured by Hä-qweh-da-ět-gǎh. Hä-qweh-da-ět-gǎh sent one of his monsters to devastate the fields, and the other sisters ran away. Hä-qweh-da-ět-gǎh held O-na-tah captive in darkness under the earth until a searching ray of sunlight found her and guided her back to the surface. Here she wept over the devastation of her fields and her abandonment by her two sisters. She vowed that she would never again leave her fields, and now she guards them alone, without the presence of her sisters.[1]

The Jo-ga-oh

The Jo-gä-oh, the "Little People", are invisible nature spirits, similar to the fairies of European myth. The Jo-ga-oh protect and guide all the natural world and protect the people from unseen hidden enemies.

There are three tribes of Jo-gä-oh.

The Ga-hon-ga inhabit the rivers and rocks. They live in rocky caves beside the streams and have great strength despite their small stature. They enjoy feats of strength, and have a fondness for inviting people to their habitations to compete in contests. They enjoy playing ball with rocks, tossing them high out of sight in the air, and so they are often called "Stone Throwers".

The Gan-da-yah protect and advise the fruits and grains. Their special gift is the strawberry plant; in the spring they loosen the earth so that the plant can grow. They turn the leaves toward the sun and guide the runners. The ripening of strawberries marks the spring festival. The Ho-non-di-ont, the "Company of Faith Keepers", hold dances of thanksgiving at night, with special thanks to the Jo-gä-oh for the strawberries.

Throughout the growing season the Gan-da-yah guard the crops against disease and other pests.

They sometimes visit the people in the form of birds: a robin for good news, an owl for a warning, a bat bringing news of an immanent life-and-death struggle.

The most minute harmless insect or worm may be the bearer of important "talk" from the "Little People" and is not destroyed for the "trail is broad enough for all".[1]

The Oh-do-was inhabit the shadowy places under the earth. In this underworld there are forests and animals, including a white buffalo. The Oh-do-was guard against poisonous snakes and creatures of death that try to escape from the underworld. From time to time the Oh-do-was emerge from the underworld at night into the world above. There they hold festivals and dance in rings around trees in the forest where the grass afterwards doesn't grow.[1]

Gǎ-oh and the winds

Gǎ-oh is the personification of the wind. A giant, he is an "instrumentality through whom the Great Spirit moves the elements".[2] His home is in the far northern sky.[note 4] Here he controls the four winds: north wind (Bear), west wind (Panther), east wind (Moose), and south wind (Fawn).[1]

The North Wind is personified by a bear spirit named Ya-o-gah. Ya-o-gah could destroy the world with his fiercely cold breath, but is kept in check by Gǎ-oh. Ne-o-ga, the fawn, is the south wind, "gentle, and kind as the sunbeam". The West Wind, the panther Da-jo-ji, "can climb the high mountains, and tear down the forests... carry the whirlwind on [his] back, and toss the great sea waves high in the air, and snarl at the tempests" O-yan-do-ne, the moose, is the East Wind, who blows his breath "to chill the young clouds as they float through the sky".


So-son-do-wah was a great hunter, known for stalking a supernatural elk. He was captured by Dawn, a goddess who needed him as a watchman. He fell in love with Gendenwitha ("she who brings the day"; alternate spelling: Gendewitha), a human woman. He tried to woo her with a song. In spring, he sang as a bluebird, in summer as a blackbird and in autumn as a hawk, who then tried to take Gendenwitha with him to the sky. Dawn tied him to her doorpost. She changed Gendenwitha into the Morning Star, so the hunter could watch her all night but never be with her.

Flying Head

The Flying Head (moh:Kanontsistóntie's) is a monster in the form of a giant disembodied head as tall as a man. It is covered with thick hair, has long black wings and long sharp claws. It comes at night to the homes of widows and orphans, beats its wings on the walls of the houses, and issues terrifying cries in an unknown language. A few days after its visit death claims one of the family.[4] The Seneca name Dagwanoenyent means "whirlwind".

Tuscarora legend

Virginia surveyor William Byrd II, in his History of the Dividing Line Betwixt North Carolina and Virginia (1728), recorded a tradition of a former religious leader, which had been current among the Tuscarora tribe. They were an Iroquoian-speaking tribe historically settled in North Carolina that, because of warfare, migrated to join the rest of the Iroquois Confederacy in New York. In this account, many centuries before their tribe had become so dishonest that no man's property nor wife was considered inviolate,

[H]owever, their God, being unwilling to root them out for their crimes, did them the honour to send a Messenger from Heaven to instruct them, and set Them a perfect Example of Integrity and kind Behavior towards one another. But this holy Person, with all his Eloquence and Sanctity of Life, was able to make very little Reformation amongst them. Some few Old Men did listen a little to his Wholesome Advice, but all the Young fellows were quite incorrigible. They not only Neglected his Precepts, but derided and Evil Entreated his Person. At last, taking upon him to reprove some Young Rakes of the Conechta Clan very sharply for their impiety, they were so provok'd at the Freedom of his Rebukes, that they tied him to a Tree, and shot him with Arrows through the Heart. But their God took instant vengeance on all who had a hand in that Monstrous Act, by Lightning from Heaven, & has ever since visited their Nation with a continued Train of Calamities, nor will he ever leave off punishing, and wasting their people, till he shall have blotted every living Soul of them out of the World.[5]

The Three Brothers Who Followed the Sun under the Sky's Rim

This is an Iroquois sun myth based on three brothers who tire of being on earth and decide to chase the sun and end up in the sky. Two of the three brothers succeed with the third succeeding in spirit only. The Sun Spirit remakes and tests the two brothers, who end up staying in the realm of the sky for many years. They miss their home and end up returning, only to find that many years have passed. With mostly everything they knew either changed or gone, they long to return to the realm of the sky, which happened when they were both struck by lightning as earthly perils could not harm them.[6]

See also


  1. ^ Parker says "The central tree in the heaven world was the apple." The apple tree was introduced by European settlers. Elsewhere he suggests that the crab apple ("wild-apple") is meant.
  2. ^ Parker says: "Ata’-en’sic ... is the Huron name for the first mother, and not that of the (confederated) Iroquois, The Senecas usually give this character no name other than Ea-gen’-tci, literally old woman or ancient bodied. This name is not a personal one, however. Mrs Converse has therefore substituted the Huronian personal name for the Iroquoian common name."
  3. ^ Other versions of the story say that Ata-en-sic gave birth to a daughter. This daughter was impregnated by the wind, gave birth to the twins, and died, leaving her sons in the care of Ata-en-sic
  4. ^ So Converse; Caswell says west.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Converse, Harriet Maxwell (Ya-ie-wa-no); Parker, Arthur Caswell (Ga-wa-so-wa-neh) (December 15, 1908). "Myths and Legends of the New York State Iroquois" (PDF). Education Department Bulletin. Retrieved Nov 9, 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d Morgan, Lewis Henry (1995). The League of the Iroquois. J G Press. pp. 141−174. ISBN 1-57215-124-2.
  3. ^ a b Louellyn White (2015). Free to Be Mohawk: Indigenous Education at the Akwesasne Freedom School. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 29. ISBN 9780806153254.
  4. ^ Canfield, William W. (1902). The Legends of the Iroquois: Told by "the Cornplanter". New York: A. Wessels Company. pp. 125–126. Retrieved Jan 27, 2016.
  5. ^ William Byrd II, History of the Dividing Line, entry for Nov. 12, 1728.
  6. ^ Parker, Arthur C. (1910-01-01). "Iroquois Sun Myths". The Journal of American Folklore. 23 (90): 473–478. doi:10.2307/534334. JSTOR 534334.

External links


In Iroquois mythology, Atahensic (also called Ataensic or Eagentci) is an Iroquois sky goddess. "This [Atahensic] is the Huron name for the first mother, and not that of the (confederated) Iroquois. The Senecas generally give this character no name other than Eagentci, literally old woman or ancient bodied." According to legend, at the time of creation, a tree broke and left a hole in the ground that led to the centre of the Earth. Atahensic fell from the sky, and before falling into the hole left by the tree, she was carried down on the wings of birds. After her fall, the birds brought her down the hole onto water. A giant turtle then emerged from the underground waters and carried her to the surface. She then gave birth to Earth Mother, who in turn gave birth to Hahgwehdiyu and Hahgwehdaetgah, twin sons. Hahgwehdaetgah, the evil twin, killed Earth Mother by bursting out of her side during birth. Hahgwehdiyu, the good twin, then planted a seed into his mother's corpse. From this seed grew maize, as a gift to mankind. Atahensic is associated with marriage, childbirth, and feminine affairs in general.

False Face Society

The False Face Society is probably the best known of the medicinal societies among the Iroquois, especially for its dramatic wooden masks. The masks are used in healing rituals which invoke the spirit of an old hunch-backed man. Those cured by the society become members. Also, echoing the significance of dreams to the Iroquois, anyone who dreams that they should be a member of the society may join.

In modern times, the masks have been a contentious subject among the Iroquois. Some Iroquois who are not members of the False Face Society have produced and sold the masks to non-Native tourists and collectors. The Iroquois leadership responded to the commercialization of this tradition and released a statement against the sale of these sacred masks. They also called for the return of the masks from collectors and museums. Iroquois traditionalists object to labeling the masks as simply "artifacts" since they are not conceived as objects but the living representation of a spirit.

Flying Head

The Flying Head (also known as Big Head, or the Great Head) is a cannibalistic spirit from Iroquois and Wyandot mythology.


Gendenwitha (also spelled Gendewitha) is a mythological character represented by the Morning Star in Iroquois mythology. Her name means "It Brings the Day." Gendenwitha was originally a beautiful maiden who was loved by Sosondowah, a great hunter held captive as a guard by Dawn. Dawn transformed Gendenwitha into the Morning Star after Sosondowah attempted to make her his bride.


Hiawatha (also known as Ayenwathaaa, Aiionwatha, or Haiëñ'wa'tha [ha.jẽʔ.waʔ.tha] in Onondaga) was a precolonial First Nations leader and co-founder of the Iroquois Confederacy. He was a leader of the Onondaga people, the Mohawk people, or both. According to some accounts, he was born an Onondaga but adopted into the Mohawks.

Hiawatha was a follower of the Great Peacemaker (Deganawida), a Huron prophet and spiritual leader who proposed the unification of the Iroquois peoples, who shared common ancestry and similar languages, but he suffered from a severe speech impediment which hindered him from spreading his proposal. Hiawatha was a skilled orator, and he was instrumental in persuading the Senecas, Cayugas, Onondagas, Oneidas, and Mohawks to accept the Great Peacemaker's vision and band together to become the Five Nations of the Iroquois confederacy. The Tuscarora people joined the Confederacy in 1722 to become the Sixth Nation.

Horseshoe Falls

Horseshoe Falls, also known as Canadian Falls, is the largest of the three waterfalls that collectively form Niagara Falls on the Niagara River along the Canada–United States border. Approximately 90% of the Niagara River, after diversions for hydropower generation, flows over Horseshoe Falls. The remaining 10% flows over American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls. It is located between Terrapin Point on Goat Island in the US state of New York, and Table Rock in the Canadian province of Ontario.

John Napoleon Brinton Hewitt

John Napoleon Brinton Hewitt (December 16, 1859 – October 14, 1937) was a linguist and ethnographer who specialized in Iroquoian and other Native American languages.;view=1up;seq=303

Hewitt was born on the Tuscarora Indian Reservation near Lewiston, New York. His mother was of Tuscarora, French, Oneida, and Scottish descent, his father of English and Scottish, but raised in a Tuscarora family. His parents raised him speaking the English language, but when he left the reservation to attend schools in Wilson and Lockport, he learned to speak the Tuscarora language from other students who spoke the language.In 1880, he was hired by Erminnie A. Smith of the Smithsonian Institution's Bureau of Ethnology (now the Bureau of American Ethnology), as an assistant ethnologist. He worked with Smith for several years until her death in 1886. He then applied to the institution for employment to complete the Tuscarora-English dictionary he had begun with Smith. He moved to Washington DC where he would work as an ethnologist until his death in 1937. He worked on the dictionary throughout his life, but it was not published during his lifetime. (It was later edited and published as the Tuscarora-English/English-Tuscarora dictionary.)

In 1914 he was awarded the Cornplanter Medal.Hewitt's prolific researches, including studies of Iroquois mythology and language, were compiled in his well-known "Iroquois Cosmology" which was published in two parts, 1903 and 1928.

List of beings referred to as fairies

The term fairy is peculiar to the English language and to English folklore, reflecting the conflation of Germanic, Celtic and Romance folklore and legend since the Middle English period (it is a Romance word which has been given the associations of fair by folk etymology secondarily). Nevertheless, "fairy" has come to be used as a kind of umbrella term in folklore studies, grouping comparable types of supernatural creatures since at least the 1970s.

The following list is a collection of individual traditions which have been grouped under the "fairy" moniker in the citation given.

List of religions and spiritual traditions

While religion is hard to define, one standard model of religion, used in religious studies courses, was proposed by Clifford Geertz, who defined it as a

[…] system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic."

A critique of Geertz's model by Talal Asad categorized religion as "an anthropological category." Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to explain the origin of life or the universe. They tend to derive morality, ethics, religious laws, or a preferred lifestyle from their ideas about the cosmos and human nature. According to some estimates, there are roughly 4,200 religions in the world.The word religion is sometimes used interchangeably with "faith" or "belief system", but religion differs from private belief in that it has a public aspect. Most religions have organized behaviours, including clerical hierarchies, a definition of what constitutes adherence or membership, congregations of laity, regular meetings or services for the purposes of veneration of a deity or for prayer, holy places (either natural or architectural) or religious texts. Certain religions also have a sacred language often used in liturgical services. The practice of a religion may also include sermons, commemoration of the activities of a god or gods, sacrifices, festivals, feasts, trance, rituals, rites, ceremonies, worship, initiations, funerals, marriages, meditation, invocation, mediumship, music, art, dance, public service or other aspects of human culture. Religious beliefs have also been used to explain parapsychological phenomena such as out-of-body experiences, near-death experiences and reincarnation, along with many other paranormal and supernatural experiences.Some academics studying the subject have divided religions into three broad categories: world religions, a term which refers to transcultural, international faiths; indigenous religions, which refers to smaller, culture-specific or nation-specific religious groups; and new religious movements, which refers to recently developed faiths. One modern academic theory of religion, social constructionism, says that religion is a modern concept that suggests all spiritual practice and worship follows a model similar to the Abrahamic religions as an orientation system that helps to interpret reality and define human beings, and thus religion, as a concept, has been applied inappropriately to non-Western cultures that are not based upon such systems, or in which these systems are a substantially simpler construct.

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.


Sawiskera may refer to:

The evil son of the Sky Woman and destroyer of his twin Teharonhiawako's works in Iroquois mythology (specifically Mohawk mythology)

The moon of a Kuiper Belt object, (88611) Teharonhiawako I Sawiskera

Seneca mythology

Seneca mythology refers to the mythology of the Seneca people, one of the six nations of the Iroquois Confederacy from the northeastern United States.


The sky (or celestial dome) is everything that lies above the surface of the Earth, including the atmosphere and outer space.

In the field of astronomy, the sky is also called the celestial sphere. This is viewed from Earth's surface as an abstract dome on which the Sun, stars, planets, and Moon appear to be traveling. The celestial sphere is conventionally divided into designated areas called constellations. Usually, the term sky is used informally as the point of view from the Earth's surface; however, the meaning and usage can vary. In some cases, such as in discussing the weather, the sky refers to only the lower, more dense portions of the atmosphere.

During daylight, the sky appears to be blue because air scatters more blue sunlight than red. At night, the sky appears to be a mostly dark surface or region spangled with stars. During the day, the Sun can be seen in the sky unless obscured by clouds. In the night sky (and to some extent during the day) the Moon, planets and stars are visible in the sky. Some of the natural phenomena seen in the sky are clouds, rainbows, and aurorae. Lightning and precipitation can also be seen in the sky during storms. Birds, insects, aircraft, and kites are often considered to fly in the sky. Due to human activities, smog during the day and light pollution during the night are often seen above large cities.


The Iroquois mythic hero Sosondowah was a great hunter known for stalking a supernatural elk, Oh-je-a-neh-doh. Sosondowah was captured by Dawn, a goddess who needed him as a watchman. He fell in love with Gendenwitha ("she who brings the day", also spelled Gendewitha), a human woman. He tried to woo her by singing to her in spring as a bluebird, in summer as a blackbird and in autumn as a hawk, who then tried to take Gendenwitha with him to the sky. Dawn tied him to her doorpost and then changed Gendenwitha into the Morning Star, so he could watch her all night but never be with her.


Tadodaho was a Native American and sachem of the Onondaga nation before the Deganawidah and Hiawatha formed the Iroquois League. According to oral tradition, he had extraordinary characteristics and was widely feared, but he was persuaded to support the confederacy of the Five Nations.

His name has since been used as the term, Tadodaho, to refer to the chief chosen to preside over the Grand Council of the Iroquois League. By tradition, as the Onondaga are the "keepers of the council fire", the chief is chosen from that nation. The position is the most influential Iroquois chief in New York State, where the Six Nations confederacy historically had the most influence. This meaning of the term has been used for centuries.


Taryenyawagon (Onondaga Taiñhiawa'geh) or "Holder of the Heavens" is the creator deity in Iroquois mythology.

Wyandot religion

The Wyandot (sometimes formerly referred to as the Huron) are a First Nations/Native American people originally from Ontario, Canada, and surrounding areas.

The shamans of a Wyandot tribe were called Arendiwane (or Arendi wane, Orendi wane).

According to Wyandot mythology, Iosheka created the first man and woman and taught them many skills, including all their religious ceremonies and rituals, the ability to fight evil spirits, healing, and the use of the sacrament of tobacco.

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