Lenape mythology

Lenape mythology is the mythology of the Lenape people, an indigenous people of the Northeastern Woodlands.

Creation myth

The Lenape believe that before creation, there was nothing, an empty dark space. However, in this emptiness there existed a spirit, their creator, Kishelamàkânk. Eventually in that emptiness he fell asleep. While he slept he dreamt of the world as we know it today, the Earth with mountains, forests, and animals. He also dreamt up man, and he saw the ceremonies man would perform. Then he woke up from his dream to the same nothingness he was living in before. Kishelamàkânk then started to create the Earth as he had dreamt it.

First he created helper spirits, the Grandfathers of the North, East, and West, and the Grandmother of the South. Together they created the Earth just as Kishelamàkânk had dreamt it. One of their final acts was creating a special tree. From the roots of this tree came the first man, and when the tree bent down and kissed the ground, woman sprang from it.

All the animals and humans did their jobs on the Earth, until eventually a problem arose. There was a tooth of a giant naked bear that could give the owner magical powers, and the humans started to fight over it. Eventually the wars got so bad that people moved away, and made new tribes and new languages. Kishelamàkânk saw this fighting and decided to send a spirit down to bring everyone back together, Nanapush.

He went on top of a mountain and started the first Sacred Fire, which gave off a smoke that caused all the people of the world to come investigate what it was. When they all came, Nanapush created a pipe with a sumac branch and a soapstone bowl, and the creator gave him Tobacco to smoke with. Nanapush then told the people that whenever they fought with each other, to sit down and smoke tobacco in the pipe, and they would make decisions that were good for everyone.

The same bear tooth later caused a fight between two evil spirits, a giant toad and an evil snake. The toad was in charge of all the waters, and amidst the fighting he ate the tooth and the snake. The snake then proceeded to bite his side, releasing a great flood upon the Earth. Nanapush saw this destruction and began climbing a mountain to avoid the flood, all the while grabbing animals that he saw and sticking them in his sash. At the top of the mountain there was a cedar tree that he started to climb, and as he climbed he broke off limbs of the tree. When he got to the top of the tree, he pulled out his bow, played it and sang a song that made the waters stop. Nanapush then asked which animal he could put the branches and the rest of the animals on top of in the water. The turtle volunteered saying he’d float and they could all stay on him, and that’s why they call the land turtle island.

Nanapush then decided the Turtle needed to be bigger for everyone to live on so he asked the animals if one of them would dive down into the water to get some of the old Earth. The beaver tried first, but came up dead and Nanapush had to revive him. The loon tried second, but its attempt ended with the same fate. Lastly, the muskrat tried. He stayed down the longest, and came up dead as well, but he had some Earth on his nose that Nanapush put on the Turtles back. Because of his accomplishment, Nanapush told the muskrat he was blessed and his kind would always thrive in the land.

Nanapush then took out his bow and again sang, and the turtle started to grow. It kept growing, and Nanapush sent out animals to try to get to the edge to see how long it had grown. First he sent the bear, and the bear returned in two days saying he had reached the end. Next he sent out the deer, who came back in two weeks saying he had reached the end. Finally, he sent the wolf, and the wolf never returned because the land had gotten so big. The Lenape claim that this is why the wolf howls, that it is really a call for their ancestor to come back home.[1]


Kishelemukong is the creator god, not involved in the daily affairs of the Lenape. Instead, he directed the manitowak, the life-spirits of all living things, which were created by Kishelemukong. The manitowak were venerated in ceremonies, rituals, dreams, visions, games and ohtas (see below), as well as through the interventions of the Metinuwak, who were healers, spiritual and emotional guides, and religious leaders; they could communicate with the manitowak.

An ohta is a wooden doll carved annually and that were said to have remarkable powers of healing and luck.

A nianque is an animal guide, such as in a vision quest.

Further reading

  • Harrington, Mark (1921). Religion and Ceremonies of the Lenape. Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, 1921.
  • Lenik, Edward (2002). Picture Rocks: American Indian Rock Art in the Northeast Woodlands. UPNE. ISBN 1-58465-197-0.
  • Weiner, Zack; Robert Red Hawk. “Creation Story” (full) [1] Swarthmore.edu


  1. ^ Weiner, Zack; Ershadi, Julie. "Creation Story" (PDF). lenapenation.org. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 March 2016. Retrieved 16 December 2015.
Anishinaabe traditional beliefs

Anishinaabe traditional beliefs cover the traditional belief system of the Anishinaabeg peoples, consisting of the Algonquin/Nipissing, Ojibwa/Chippewa/Saulteaux/Mississaugas, Odawa, Potawatomi and Oji-Cree, located primarily in the Great Lakes region of the United States and Canada.

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.


Numen, pl. numina, is a Latin term for "divinity", or a "divine presence", "divine will." The Latin authors defined it as follows. Cicero writes of a "divine mind" (divina mens), a god "whose numen everything obeys," and a "divine power" (vim divinam) "which pervades the lives of men." It causes the motions and cries of birds during augury. In Virgil's recounting of the blinding of the one-eyed giant, Polyphemus, from the Odyssey, in his Aeneid, he has Odysseus and his men first "ask for the assistance of the great numina" (magna precati numina). Reviewing public opinion of Augustus on the day of his funeral, the historian Tacitus reports that some thought "no honor was left to the gods" when he "established the cult of himself" (se ... coli vellet) "with temples and the effigies of numina" (effigie numinum). Pliny the younger in a letter to Paternus raves about the "power," the "dignity," and "the majesty;" in short, the "numen of history." Lucretius uses the expression numen mentis, or "bidding of the mind," where "bidding" is numen, not, however, the divine numen, unless the mind is to be considered divine, but as simply human will.Since the early 20th century, numen has sometimes been treated in the history of religion as a pre-animistic phase; that is, a belief system inherited from an earlier time. Numen is also used by sociologists to refer to the idea of magical power residing in an object, particularly when writing about ideas in the western tradition. When used in this sense, numen is nearly synonymous with mana. However, some authors reserve use of mana for ideas about magic from Polynesia and southeast Asia.

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.