Lakota mythology

Lakota mythology is the body of myths and legends that belong to the Lakota people.


The Lakota believe that everything has a spirit; including trees, rocks, rivers, and almost every natural being. This therefore leads to the belief in the existence of an afterlife.


According to Lakota belief, Inyan, the Rock, was present at the very beginning, and so was the omnipresent spirit Wakan Tanka, the Great Mystery, and the darkness Han. Inyan wanted to exercise his powers, or compassion, so he created Maka (the Earth) as part of himself to keep control of his powers. But he sacrificed much of his blood by doing so, which became water, and he shriveled up, became hard, and begins losing his powers. The water cannot retain his powers, and Skan was created. Maka complains to Inyan that everything is cold and dark, and so he creates Anpao, the Dawn. As Anpao's red light was not enough for Maka, Inyan creates Wi, the Sun.

Maka now wanted to be separate from Inyan, so he appealed to Skan, who is now the supreme judge of the universe. Skan then rules that Maka must stay bound to Inyan, which is why rocks are bound to soil. In another version, when Inyan created Maka, she taunted him for his impotence. Inyan appealed to Skan, and Skan banished Han to be under Maka. When Maka complained that she was too cold, Skan created Anpao and Wi to provide light and heat, and when Maka complained that she was too hot, Skan ordered that Han and Anpao to follow each other around the world, thus creating day and night. [1]

Notable tales

One of the most famous stories from Lakota mythology was about the adventures of Iktomi, the trickster spider god.

Another was about the slaying of Unhcegila, a serpent monster who wreaked havoc upon the land and devoured or killed whoever who stumbles upon her. Many warriors sought to kill her to obtain a red crystal in a seventh spot on her head which functioned as her heart, as it grants its bearer great power.[2]

In one version, Unhcegila ate the family of a warrior from the Bear Clan. The warrior was told by a Weasel spirit that if he were to be devoured by Unhcegila, he could use his knife to cut his way out and free the other victims, which he did.

In another version, Unhcegila was killed by two brothers, one of whom was blind, after a medicine woman gave them several arrows. Some accounts add that the arrows did not entirely kill Unhcegila, but injured her so greatly, that she damaged the land as she writhed in pain. When she died, the Sun dried her remains, resulting in the rock formations and skeletons that are found in the Badlands (Makȟóšiča).[3]

In a third version, Unhcegila emerged from the primordial waters to flood the land. The resulting devastation angered Wakinyan, the Thunderbird, so he flapped his wings to dry the land, and shot lightning to destroy her heart, killing her. Her bones were scattered throughout the land.[4]


The Lakota people believe that after death, the deceased person's soul will go to the happy hunting ground, a realm that resembles the world of the living, but with better weather, and more plentiful animals that are easier to hunt than they are in the world of the living.

However, some accounts mention that the Sky-Road (Milky Way) is the destination of the deceased, but every deceased soul must present the proper tattoos to an old woman, Hihankara, the Owl-Maker. She will admit those who have the proper tattoos, but those who do not have the tattoos will be pushed to Earth to wander as ghosts.

See also


  1. ^ Native American myths in brief
  2. ^ [1], pg. 118, Native American Mythology A to Z
  3. ^ UNCEGILA - the Native American fabulous creature (Native American mythology
  4. ^ [2], pg. 118, Native American Mythology A to Z
Anog Ite

In Lakota mythology, Anúŋg Ité is a daughter of Škáŋ and wife of Tate. She was tricked by Iktomi to attempt to seduce Wi but failed when Škáŋ tells Wi that he has forgotten his wife. For attempting to undo the proper order and place herself in Hanwi's position and forgetting her own family, one of her two faces was made ugly as punishment. She was the mother of the Four Winds and Yum, the whirlwind. Because she was separated from her children, she causes pains to pregnant woman and makes babies cry. She was also said to have taught the Lakota how to separate porcupine quills and dye them.


In Sioux mythology (a Native American mythological tradition that includes Lakota mythology), Anpao (Lakota: aŋpáo), or Anp, is a spirit with two faces that represents the dawn.

Anpao dances with Han, a primordial spirit of darkness, to ensure that Wi does not burn up the Earth, resulting in day and night.

George Bushotter (Yankton Dakota-Lakota, 1860–1892) wrote that when his younger brother was ill, the brother was told to pray to Anpao, the Dawn, and recovered.Anpao zi is the "yellow of the dawn", which oral history described as the meadowlark's breast.

Devils Tower

Devils Tower (also known as Bear Lodge Butte) is a butte, possibly laccolithic, composed of igneous rock in the Bear Lodge Ranger District of the Black Hills, near Hulett and Sundance in Crook County, northeastern Wyoming, above the Belle Fourche River. It rises 1,267 feet (386 m) above the Belle Fourche River, standing 867 feet (265 m) from summit to base. The summit is 5,112 feet (1,559 m) above sea level.

Devils Tower was the first United States National Monument, established on September 24, 1906, by President Theodore Roosevelt. The monument's boundary encloses an area of 1,347 acres (545 ha).

In recent years, about 1% of the monument's 400,000 annual visitors climbed Devils Tower, mostly using traditional climbing techniques.

Ghost shirt

Ghost shirts are shirts or other clothing items created by Ghost dancers and thought to be imbued with spiritual powers.

Ghost shirts, sacred to certain factions of Lakota people, were thought to guard against bullets through spiritual power. Jack Wilson (known in Lakota circles as Wovoka) opposed rebellion against the white settlers. Wovoka believed that through pacificism, the Lakota and the rest of the Native Americans would be delivered from white oppression in the form of earthquakes. However, two Lakota warriors and followers of Wovoka, Kicking Bear and Short Bull, thought otherwise, and believed that Ghost shirts would protect the wearer enough to actively resist white oppression. The shirts did not work as promised, and when the U.S. Army attacked, 153 Lakota died, with 50 wounded and 150 missing at the Wounded Knee Massacre.

Anthropologist James Mooney argued that the most likely source of the belief that ghost shirts could repel bullets is the Mormon temple garment (which Mormons believe protect the pious wearer from evil, though not bullets). Scholars believe that in 1890 chief Kicking Bear introduced the concept to his people, the Lakota.In Kurt Vonnegut's novel Player Piano, a faction revolting against the rigidly hierarchical, mechanized United States of the future calls itself the Ghost Shirt Society. The founders claim that, like the militant Native Americans of the late 19th century, they are "mak[ing] one last fight for the old values".

Happy hunting ground

The happy hunting ground was the name given to the concept of the afterlife by several of the Great Plains tribes of American Indians, including the Oglala Lakota. It is an afterlife conceived of as a paradise in which hunting is plentiful and game unlimited.


In Lakota mythology, Iktomi is a spider-trickster spirit, and a culture hero for the Lakota people. Alternate names for Iktomi include Ikto, Ictinike, Inktomi, Unktome, and Unktomi. These names are due to the differences in tribal languages, as this spider deity was known throughout many of North America's tribes.

According to the Lakota, Iktomi is the son of Inyan, the Rock, a creator god similar in form to other male creator gods. Iktomi has a younger brother, Iya, who is a destructive and powerful spirit. One story of Iktomi goes that in the ancient days, Iktomi was Ksa, or wisdom, but he was stripped of this title and became Iktomi because of his troublemaking ways. The Oglala Indians of south Dakota presents Iktomi as the second manifestation, or degeneration, of Ksa, which hatched from the Cosmic Egg being laid by Wak-Inyan, the primordial thunderstorm. Ksa invented language and stories, names and games. In another version Iya is the son of Unk (defined as passion), who detested Ksa. Iya and Unk had an incestious relationship out of which Gnaski, the demon, was the result. Because of this, and for not taking the advice of Ksa, Unk was expelled from the circle of divine entities. Unk wanted to outwit Ksa with the help of the cunning of Gnaski. Gnaski succeeds in this, mainly because he has no fear of Skan (the Judge, Activity), by sowing confusion. Gnaski enabled this by mimicking Ksa to perfection; therefore, Gnaski is called Ksapela (little wisdom). The first people were not able to distinguish between the two. Through his folly Gnaski entangles Ksa completely, and through the activity of Skan Ksa consequently becomes a spider, the meaning of the name Iktomi. Iktomi still had the feature of making games. It seems that Iktomi, in stories attributed to him, in his very essence is representing the confusion between wisdom and folly. He began playing malicious tricks because people would jeer at his strange or funny looks. Most of his schemes end with him falling into ruin when his intricate plans backfire. These tales are usually told as a way to teach lessons to Lakota youth. Because it is Iktomi, a respected (or perhaps feared) deity playing the part of the idiot or fool, and the story is told as entertainment, the listener is allowed to reflect on misdeeds without feeling like they are being confronted. In other tales, Iktomi is depicted with dignity and seriousness, such as in the popularized myth of the dreamcatcher.

His appearance is that of a spider, but he can take any shape, including that of a human. When he is a human he is said to wear red, yellow and white paint, with black rings around his eyes.

The tales of Iktomi's propensity for mischief leads many without a full understanding of Native American mythology to believe that he is an evil figure, however, it is not quite that simple. Iktomi can be seen as both good and bad, and has been portrayed in both ways. Many other Native American tricksters, like Mica (Coyote) are often victims of the same misconception. Despite Lakota not expressing hysteria or extreme fear towards Iktomi, generally he is viewed as a being whose gaze is to be avoided, lest trouble find you; as depicted in the modern film Skins, directed by Cheyenne-Arapaho director Chris Eyre.

Iktomi is a shapeshifter. He can use strings to control humans like puppets. He has also the power to make potions that change gods, gain control over people and trick gods and mortals. Mica or Coyote is his great accomplice in all of this, though there are times when he behaves seriously and comes to the aid of the Lakota people, there are instances where he gives the people ways to protect themselves from evil, live a better life with technology, or warn them of danger.

Lakota mythology is a living belief system, there is a prophecy that stated Iktomi would spread his web over the land. Today, this has been interpreted by some contemporary Native Americans to mean the telephone network, and then the internet and World Wide Web. Iktomi has been considered by the Lakota from time immemorial to be the patron of new technology, from his invention of language he gave to the people to today's modern inventions, such as the computer or robots.

Because the Lakota mythology is word of mouth, and traditionally there were no written records, most of the information about Iktomi in Lakota mythology has not been written down or recorded. He has lived on in the retelling of tales and the religious traditions which are passed on from generation to generation, into the modern day.

Iya (mythology)

In Lakota mythology, Iya is a storm-monster, brother of Iktomi the spider. He eats humans, animals and consumes villages to satisfy his otherwise endless appetite. This fact, however, does not make him bad or evil; he simply performs a duty and is considered a sacred being. He is the eye of the storm, and offers protection to those caught in his wake. The tornado, the snowstorm, the hurricane or the thunderstorm would all be considered manifestations of this deity. He travels with his storms in a fabulous tipi painted with magical symbols, and when he appears, he is often faceless and formless. His home is said to be under the waters, where he resides with his mother, Unk.

He is considered to be the chief of the North, symbolically encompassing the spheres of winter, famine and disease. He is the guardian of the Aurora Borealis and holds to a rivalry against both the chief of the South, Okaga, as well as the thunderbirds, though this is vastly exaggerated in tales told to outsiders.

He is the younger brother of Iktomi, and the pair comprises the two progeny of Inyan, the creator, who is the head of the Lakota pantheon.

List of Lakota mythological figures

Below is a list of commonly recognized figures who are part of Lakota mythology, a Native American tribe of East and West Dakota. The spiritual entities of Lakota mythology are categorized in several major categories, including major deities, wind spirits, personified concepts, and other beings.

List of light deities

A light deity is a god or goddess in mythology associated with light and/or day. Since stars give off light, star deities can also be included here. The following is a list of light deities in various mythologies.

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.

Mitakuye Oyasin

Mitákuye Oyás’iŋ (All Are Related) is a phrase from the Lakota language. It reflects the world view of interconnectedness held by the Lakota people of North America. This concept and phrase is expressed in many Yankton Sioux prayers, as well as by ceremonial people in other Lakota communities.The phrase translates in English as "all my relatives," "we are all related," or "all my relations." It is a prayer of oneness and harmony with all forms of life: other people, animals, birds, insects, trees and plants, and even rocks, rivers, mountains and valleys.In 1940, American scholar Joseph Epes Brown wrote a study of Mitákuye Oyás’iŋ and its relevance in the Sioux ideology of "underlying connection" and "oneness." He noted how the phrase has been misappropriated and misused as a slogan and salutation by peoples from outside the Lakota cultures.Francis White Bird asserts that only Lakota can use this phrase because it applies only to Lakota culture.Regardless it has become a sign of recognition by all peoples of native ancestry, especially those who are alienated from tribal tradition.


Ohunka (Lakota: false, untrue, plural ohunkakan) is a traditional Sioux evening story. They usually feature mythological characters like Iktomi or Iya together with humans. The storyteller's skill required the combination of episodes and keeping the audience interested. Some ohunkakan were collected by Zitkala-Sa in her Old Indian Legends.


In Lakota tradition, Škáŋ is the Motion of the universe. The Great Spirit, Wakȟáŋ Tȟáŋka, reflected upon himself and created the four Superior Spirits, Wi (the first to be created, bringing light to the world), Skan, Maka (Mother Earth) and Íŋyaŋ (the solid support of the Earth or the rock associated with the natural forces of the Earth).

Skan enters the body with the spirit and sets new life in motion. All that is created is in motion, to the radiance of the One who created all things, Wakȟáŋ Tȟáŋka.

Thunder Butte

Thunder Butte (Lakota: Wakíŋyaŋ Pahá) is a prominent butte landmark located in the northwest corner of Ziebach County, South Dakota, in the United States. Thunder Butte is a landform that can be seen for many miles in every direction, and serves now (as it has in the past) as an important orientation point for area residents, or a navigational aide for travelers crossing the surrounding plains. The prominent butte gives its name to a small community at its base, and to a small creek that runs into the Moreau River.


In Lakota mythology, Unk Cekula (uŋȟčéǧila or uŋkčéǧila) is a serpentoid creature which was responsible for many unexplained disappearances and deaths. a Lakota Sioux Serpent named Unk Cekula, pronounced (Unc-Check-Yula). Her male counterpart is known as Unk Tehi.


In Lakota mythology, Untunktahe is a water spirit.

Due to his pride, he constantly challenges against Waukheon.He is rumoured to be associated with the destructive serpent demon Unhcegila.


Wakíŋyaŋ is a Lakota word for "thunder."

The word is usually translated as "Thunder Spirits", "Thunder Beings," or "Thunder Birds". Heyokas, that is contrarians, dream of Wakinyan and can burn cedar (Juniperus scopulorum) to protect themselves from thunder and lightning, since Wakinyan respects and will not harm that tree.


In Lakota mythology, Wóȟpe (less correctly spelled "Wohpe") is a spirit of peace, the daughter of Wi and the Moon, Haŋhépi-Wi. She is the wife of the south wind. When she visited the Earth, she gave the Lakota people a pipe as a symbol of peace. Later, Wóȟpe became conflated with White Buffalo Calf Woman. An alternative name for Wóȟpe is Ptehíŋčalasaŋwiŋ.

As a symbol of Wophe's coming to earth she is often associated with falling stars.


In Lakota mythology, Čhápa (often misspelled as Capa) is the beaver spirit and lord of domesticity, labor and preparation.

You can hear the word as pronounced by a native speaker here.

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