Miwok mythology

The mythology of the Miwok Native Americans are myths of their world order, their creation stories and 'how things came to be' created. Miwok myths suggest their spiritual and philosophical world view. In several different creation stories collected from Miwokan people, Coyote was seen as their ancestor and creator god, sometimes with the help of other animals, forming the earth and making people out of humble materials like feathers or twigs.[1]

According to Miwok mythology, the people believed in animal and human spirits, and spoke of animal spirits as their ancestors. Coyote in many tales figures as their ancestor, creator god, and a trickster god. The Miwok mythology is similar to other Native American myths of Northern California.

Mountain coyote (Canis latrans lestes) in Yosemite National Park

Creation of the World

First People

Falco mexicanus -San Luis Obispo, California, USA-8
Prairie falcon (Falco mexicanus)

The Miwok believed there existed a "people who lived before real people" who in some tales have died out, in others are the same as the supernatural animal spirits.[2]

Several creation fragments exist detailing Coyote's place in the family of the "first spirits" on earth. According to the Coast Miwok, Coyote was the declared grandfather of the Falcon. There existed animal spirits and a few star-people spirits.[3] From the Sacramento river area the Miwok gave the following names of the first spirits:

  • O-let'-te Coyote-man, the Creator
  • Mol'-luk the Condor, father of Wek'-wek
  • Wek'-wek the Falcon, son of Mol'-luk and grandson of O-let'-te
  • Hul'-luk mi-yum'-ko the two beautiful women chiefs of the Star-people
  • Os-so-so'-li Pleiades, one of the Star-women
  • Ke'-lok the North Giant
  • Hoo-soo'-pe the Mermaids or Water-maidens, sisters of Wek'-wek
  • Choo'-hoo the Turkey Buzzard
  • Kok'-kol the Raven
  • Ah-wet'-che the Crow
  • Koo-loo'-loo the Humming-bird[4]

Coast Miwok (Coyote and Walik)

According to one Coast Miwok version "Coyote shook his walik" (something similar to a blanket of tule) to the four directions south, east, north and west. The water dried, and land appeared.[5]

The Diver

In one creation myth called The Diver Coyote creates the earth and land from the Ocean or endless water. Coyote sends a turtle to dive into the Ocean for some "earth". The turtle dives to the bottom and comes up with some "earth". Coyote takes the earth and mixes it with "Chanit" seeds and water. The mixture swells and "the earth was there."[6]

Coyote and Silver Fox

Another creation story says that there is "no earth, only water". Silver Fox (a vixen) feels lonely and mentions this in a prayer song, and then meets the Coyote. Silver Fox makes an artistic proposal: "We will sing the world". They create the world together by dancing and singing. As they do so, the earth forms and takes shape.[7]

Creation of Humankind

Artistic interpretation of Coyote

Coast Miwok (Coyote and Turkey Buzzard)

In The Creation of Humans myth, Coyote catches a turkey buzzard, raven and crow, plucks their feathers and place the feathers in different parts of the earth. They turn into the Miwok people and their villages.[3]

Coast Miwok (Coyote and Chicken Hawk)

Coyote comes from the west alone, followed by Chicken Hawk, who is his grandson. Coyote turned "his first people" into animals. He made the Pomo people from mud and the Miwok people out of sticks.[5]

Sierra Miwok (How ravens became people)

In the myth How Kah'-kah-loo The Ravens Became People, there was an epic flood, and the first world people climbed a mountain to avoid drowning. The water finally receded. They were starving, they thought it was safe to come down and look for food but they sank into the mud and died. The ravens came to sit on the holes where the people died, one raven at each hole. The ravens turned into new people the Miwok.[8]

Sierra Miwok (Coyote and Lizard)

From the Sierra Miwoks, another creation myth is more comparable to Pomo mythology: Coyote and Lizard create the world "and everything in it". Coyote create human beings from some twigs. They argue over whether human beings should have hands. Lizard wants humans to have hands but Coyote does not. Lizard wins a scuffle, and humans are created with hands.[9]

Death and afterlife stories

Coast Miwok (Ocean Path West)

According to Coast Miwok, the dead jumped into the ocean at Point Reyes and followed something like a string leading west beyond the breaker waves, that took them to the setting sun. There they remained with Coyote in an afterworld "ute-yomigo" or "ute-yomi", meaning "dead home." [5]


Many of the ideas, plots and characters in Miwok mythology are shared with neighboring people of Northern California. For example, the Coyote-lizard story is like the tale told by their neighbors, the Pomo people. In addition, the Ohlone also believed that Coyote was the grandfather of the Falcon and maker of mankind. The relationship and similarity to Yokuts traditional narratives is also evident.[10]

The myths of creation after an epic flood or ocean, the Earth Diver, and the Coyote as ancestor and trickster compare to Central and Northern California mythemes of Yokuts mythology, Ohlone mythology and Pomo mythology. The myths of "First People" dying out to be replaced with the Miwok people is a "deeply impressed conception" shared by Natives in Northwestern California.[11]


  1. ^ Forester, 2006.
  2. ^ Merriam, 1910, page 31, Stories of the First People--People Who Lived Before Real People Were Created.
  3. ^ a b Merriam, 1910, page 83-84, The Creation of Man.
  4. ^ This list of people comes from Merriam, 1910, page 83-84, The Creation of Man
  5. ^ a b c Kelly, 1978, page 423.
  6. ^ Kroeber, 1907, Indian Myths, page 203, The Diver.
  7. ^ Bruchac, 2002.
  8. ^ Merriam, 1910, page 101, How Kah'-kah-loo The Ravens Became People.
  9. ^ Merriam, 1910, page 58, The Coyote and the Lizard.
  10. ^ Kroeber, 1925, page 446.
  11. ^ Kroeber, 1907, The Religion of the Indians of California, section titled "Mythology and Beliefs".


  • Barrett, Samuel A. "Myths of the Southern Sierra Miwok", University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology, March 23, 1927, Vol. 16, pages 1–28.
  • Bruchac, Joseph, editor. "Silver Fox and Coyote Create Earth", Native American Animal Stories, edited by Joseph Bruchac (Fulcrum Pub.: Golden, CO, 1992), 3-4.
  • Kelly, Isabel. 1978. "Coast Miwok", in Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 8 (California). William C. Sturtevant, and Robert F. Heizer, eds. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1978. ISBN 0-16-004578-9 / 0160045754, (Religion and ritual, page 423. mythology informants: Tom Smith and Maria Copa Frias).
  • Kroeber, Alfred L. 1907. "Indian Myths of South Central California". University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology 4:203. Berkeley. (Southern Sierra Miwok myths: Earth Diver, p. 203.); available at Sacred texts Online and 3Rocks Publications
  • Kroeber, Alfred L. 1907. The Religion of the Indians of California, University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology 4:#6. Berkeley, sections titled "Shamanism", "Public Ceremonies", "Ceremonial Structures and Paraphernalia", and "Mythology and Beliefs"; available at Sacred Texts Online
  • Kroeber, Alfred L. 1925. Handbook of the Indians of California. Washington, D.C: Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin No. 78. (Chapter 30, The Miwok); available at Yosemite Online Library
  • Gifford, Edward W., editor. Miwok Myths, Published by University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnicity, May 11, 1917, Vol. 12, No. 3, pages 283-338. (Fourteen versions, including Theft of Fire and Bear and Fawns, collected in 1913-1914 from Central Sierra informants William Fuller and Thomas Williams.); available at Sacred Texts Online
  • Merriam, C. Hart, editor.The Dawn of the World, Myths and Weird Tales Told by the Mewan (Miwok) Indians of California. Cleveland OH: Arthur H. Clarke Co, 1910. Reprinted as The Dawn of the World: Myths and Tales of the Miwok Indians of California, in 1993 with an introduction by Lowell J. Bean, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln; available at Sacred Texts Online

See also

Bay Miwok

The Bay Miwok are a cultural and linguistic group of Miwok, a Native American people in Northern California who live in Contra Costa County. They joined the Franciscan mission system during the early nineteenth century, suffered a devastating population decline, and lost their language as they intermarried with other native California ethnic groups and learned the Spanish language.

The Bay Miwok were not recognized by modern anthropologists or linguists until the mid-twentieth century. In fact, Alfred L. Kroeber, father of California anthropology, who knew of one of their constituent local groups, the Saklan (Saclan), from nineteenth-century manuscript sources, presumed that they spoke an Ohlone (a.k.a. Costanoan) language.In 1955 linguist Madison Beeler recognized an 1821 vocabulary taken from a Saclan man at Mission San Francisco as representative of a Miwok language. The language was named "Bay Miwok" and its territorial extent was rediscovered during the 1960s (see Landholding Groups or Local Tribes section below).

Coast Miwok

The Coast Miwok are an indigenous people that was the second largest group of Miwok people. The Coast Miwok inhabited the general area of modern Marin County and southern Sonoma County in Northern California, from the Golden Gate north to Duncans Point and eastward to Sonoma Creek. The Coast Miwok included the Bodega Bay Miwok, from authenticated Miwok villages around Bodega Bay, and the Marin Miwok.

History of the Yosemite area

Human habitation in the Sierra Nevada region of California reaches back 8,000 to 10,000 years ago. Historically attested Native American populations, such as the Sierra Miwok, Mono and Paiute, belong to the Uto-Aztecan and Utian phyla.

In the mid-19th century, a band of Native Americans called the Ahwahnechee lived in Yosemite Valley. The California Gold Rush greatly increased the number of non-indigenous people in the region. Tensions between Native Americans and white settlers escalated into the Mariposa War. As part of this conflict, settler James Savage led the Mariposa Battalion into Yosemite Valley in 1851, in pursuit of Ahwaneechees led by Chief Tenaya. Accounts from the battalion, especially from Dr. Lafayette Bunnell, popularized Yosemite Valley as a scenic wonder.

In 1864, Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoia trees were transferred from federal to state ownership. Yosemite pioneer Galen Clark became the park's first guardian. Conditions in Yosemite Valley were made more hospitable to people and access to the park was improved in the late 19th century. Naturalist John Muir and others became increasingly alarmed about the excessive exploitation of the area. Their efforts helped establish Yosemite National Park in 1890. Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove were added to the national park in 1906.

The United States Army had jurisdiction over the national park from 1891 to 1914, followed by a brief period of civilian stewardship. The newly formed National Park Service took over the park's administration in 1916. Improvements to the park helped to increase visitation during this time. Preservationists led by Muir and the Sierra Club failed to save Hetch Hetchy Valley from becoming a reservoir in 1923. In 1964, 89 percent of the park was set aside in a highly protected wilderness area, and other protected areas were added adjacent to the park. The once-famous Yosemite Firefall, created by pushing red hot embers off a cliff near Glacier Point at night, was discontinued in the mid-to-late 20th century along with other activities that were deemed to be inconsistent with protection of the national park.

Lake Miwok

The Lake Miwok are a branch of the Miwok, a Native American people of Northern California. The Lake Miwok lived in the Clear Lake basin of what is now called Lake County.

List of avian humanoids

Avian humanoids (people with the characteristics of birds) are a common motif in folklore and popular fiction.

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.


The Miwok (also spelled Miwuk, Mi-Wuk, or Me-Wuk) are members of four linguistically related Native American groups indigenous to what is now Northern California, who traditionally spoke one of the Miwok languages in the Utian family. The word Miwok means people in the Miwok language.

Mount Diablo

Mount Diablo is a mountain of the Diablo Range, in Contra Costa County of the eastern San Francisco Bay Area in Northern California. It is south of Clayton and northeast of Danville.

It is an isolated upthrust peak of 3,849 feet (1,173 m), visible from most of the San Francisco Bay Area. Mount Diablo appears from many angles to be a double pyramid and has many subsidiary peaks, the largest and closest of which is the other half of the double pyramid, North Peak, nearly as high in elevation at 3,557 feet (1,084 m) and about a mile northeast of the main summit.

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.

Ohlone mythology

The mythology of the Ohlone (Costanoan) Native American people of Northern California include creation myths as well as other ancient narratives that contain elements of their spiritual and philosophical belief systems, and their conception of the world order. Their myths describe supernatural anthropomorphic beings with the names of regional birds and animals, notably the eagle, the Coyote who is humanity's ancestor and a trickster spirit, and a hummingbird.

The Chochenyo (Chocheño) mythology of the San Francisco Bay Area has a strong culture hero figure named Kaknu, coyote's grandson, who is an anthropomorphic and closely resembles a peregrine falcon.

Plains and Sierra Miwok

The Plains and Sierra Miwok were once the largest group of Native American Miwok people, indigenous to California. Their homeland included regions of the Sacramento Valley, San Joaquin Valley, and the Sierra Nevada.


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.

Ethnic groups
Federally recognized tribes
Regions inhabited

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