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.

Creation stories

Rumsen (Coyote, Eagle, Hummingbird)

One Ohlone creation myth begins with the demise of a previous world: When it was destroyed, the world was covered entirely in water, apart from a single peak, Pico Blanco (north of Big Sur) in the Rumsien version (or Mount Diablo in the northern Ohlone's version) on which Coyote, Hummingbird, and Eagle stood. "When the water rose to their feet" the eagle carried them all to Sierra de Gabilin (near Fremont) where they waited "for the water to go down" and the world to dry out. Coyote was sent to investigate and found it was dry now.[1]

After the flood, the eagle led Coyote to a beautiful girl inside or in the river and instructed him "she will be your wife in order that people may be raised again." Eagle gave Coyote instruction how to make her pregnant in her belly. This first wife became pregnant by eating one of Coyote's lice, but she was afraid and started running. Coyote could not persuade her or slow her down, she ran to the ocean with Coyote chasing her and she jumped into the ocean and turned into a sand flea or shrimp.[2]

Coyote married a second wife and this time had children who became the Ohlone people. This is how "people raised again". The Coyote taught humanity the arts of survival.

Rumsen (Eagle and Hawk)

Another creation myth begins with the earth flooded in water. Eagle tells Hawk to dive into the floodwaters to find some earth. Hawk dives but fails to find any earth the first day. He tries again the next morning, this time holding a feather plucked from the middle of Eagle's head. The feather grows longer and helps Hawk to reach some earth under the waters. The water eventually receded.[3]

Chochenyo (Coyote and grandson Kaknu)

The Chochenyo myths describe the "First People" or "Early People" as supernatural anthropomorphic beings with the names of regional birds and animals. Of the fragmented myths that are recorded, the Coyote was the supreme being:

"The Coyote was 'wetes', the one who commanded. He was our God, the God of all the world."

Coyote was the grandfather, companion and advisor to the Chochenyo's mythical hero, the Kaknu. Kaknu was another anthropomorphic being, described to be like a predatory bird, most closely resembling a peregrine falcon.[4]

Making the world safe

Chochenyo (Kaknu fights Body of Stone)

"Finally when Kaknu didn't want to fight anymore with anyone, he turned into a dove and entered into the earth". Kaknu dived into the earth by folding his wings, and went to confront the "Body of Stone" called Wiwe. Body of Stone was the underground lord of the earth, described as a man with a stone body, who fed people to his servants. His terrain was scattered with bones. The Body of Stone held many of Kaknu's "people" in captivity and they assisted Kaknu in an epic battle. When Kaknu shot the Body of Stone in the neck and navel with all his arrows, the Body of Stone died and burst into pieces, and became all the rocks scattered across the world. Kaknu makes peace with the people in this once hostile underground.[5]

Death and afterlife stories

Chochenyo (Land of the Dead)

According to the Chochenyo, death was created by Coyote so that people would have enough to eat, but this meant. "Kaknu had to take the road to the land of the dead...the people followed his example."[4]

According to the Chochenyo, the Land of the Dead had only one road and a man who receives the incoming spirits. There is white foam like the sea, before this are two pieces of smoking and burning wood and two hollowed stones, one filled with water, and the other with a sugary substance, where the spirits can drink and eat, before they plunge into the foam. The burning wood is a warning, the type of warning not elaborated.[6]


These myths have been called incomplete story fragments on the creation of the world. They share some elements with the neighboring people in Central and Northern California, such as Miwok mythology. The Bay Miwok people also believed that the world started with water surrounding the tallest mountain in the region, Mount Diablo. The Ohlone myths contain numerous similarities to Yokuts mythology and cosmogony.[7]


  • Gifford, Edward Winslow, and Gwendoline Harris Block. 1930. California Indian Nights. Arthur H. Clark, Glendale, California. (Two previously published narratives, pp. 100–102, 302-303.)
  • Kroeber, Alfred L. 1907. "Indian Myths of South Central California". University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology 4:167-250. Berkeley (Six Rumsien Costanoan myths, pp. 199–202); available at Sacred Texts Online.
  • Kroeber, Alfred L. 1925. Handbook of the Indians of California. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin No. 78. Washington, D.C. (Notes on origins myths, pp. 472–473.)
  • Ortiz, Beverly R. 1994. "Chocheño and Rumsen Narratives: A Comparison". In The Ohlone: Past and Present, edited by Lowell John Bean, pp. 99–163. Ballena Press, Menlo Park, California. (Myths, mostly fragmentary and some of uncertain ethnolinguistic affiliation, collected by Alfred L. Kroeber in 1902, John P. Harrington in the 1920s and 1930s, and Alex Ramirez in 1991.)


  1. ^ Rumsen narratives recorded by Alfred L. Kroeber in the 1902. Printed by Kroeber, 1907 full text; Kroeber 1925, pages 472-473 summary; Bean pages 124-127 summary.
  2. ^ Kroeber, 1907 full text; Bean pages 124-127 summary.
  3. ^ Rumsen narratives of both Isabelle Meadows and Manuel Onesimo, as recorded by John P. Harrington in the 1920s; Bean, 1994, p. 130 summary.
  4. ^ a b Origin of Death, Chochenyo narrative as recorded by John P. Harrington in the 1920s; Bean, 1994, p. 105-106, 115-116.
  5. ^ Making the World Safe, Chochenyo narrative as recorded by John P. Harrington in the 1920s; Bean, 1994, p. 107-111.
  6. ^ Land of the Death, Chochenyo narrative as recorded by John P. Harrington in the 1920s; Bean, 1994, p. 118.
  7. ^ Kroeber, 1925, page 472.

External links


Katabasis or catabasis (Ancient Greek: κατάβασις, from κατὰ "down" and βαίνω "go") is a descent of some type, such as moving downhill, the sinking of the winds or sun, a military retreat, a trip to the underworld, or a trip from the interior of a country down to the coast. The term has multiple related meanings in poetry, rhetoric, and modern psychology.

List of culture heroes

A culture hero is a mythological hero specific to some group (cultural, ethnic, religious, etc.) who changes the world through invention or discovery. A typical culture hero might be credited as the discoverer of fire, or agriculture, songs, tradition, law or religion, and is usually the most important legendary figure of a people, sometimes as the founder of its ruling dynasty.

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.

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.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.

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.


The Ohlone, named Costanoan by early Spanish colonists (the Spanish word costa means "coast"), are a Native American people of the Northern California coast. When Spanish explorers and missionaries arrived in the late 18th century, the Ohlone inhabited the area along the coast from San Francisco Bay through Monterey Bay to the lower Salinas Valley. At that time they spoke a variety of related languages. The Ohlone languages belonged to the Costanoan sub-family of the Utian language family, which itself belongs to the proposed Penutian language phylum.

The term "Ohlone" has been used in place of "Costanoan" since the 1970s by some tribal groups and by most ethnographers, historians, and writers of popular literature. In pre-colonial times, the Ohlone lived in more than 50 distinct landholding groups, and did not view themselves as a distinct group. They lived by hunting, fishing, and gathering, in the typical ethnographic California pattern. The members of these various bands interacted freely with one another. The Ohlone people practiced the Kuksu religion. Prior to the Gold Rush, the northern California region was one of the most densely populated regions north of Mexico.However, the arrival of Spanish colonizers to the area in 1769 vastly changed tribal life forever. The Spanish constructed Missions along the California coast with the objective of Christianizing the native people and culture. Between the years 1769 and 1834, the number of Indigenous Californians dropped from 300,000 to 250,000. After California entered into the Union in 1850, the state government perpetrated massacres against the Ohlones. Many of the leaders of these massacres were rewarded with positions in state and federal government. These massacres have been described as genocide. Many are now leading a push for cultural and historical recognition of their tribe and what they have gone through and had taken from them.The Ohlone living today belong to one or another of a number of geographically distinct groups, most, but not all, in their original home territory. The Muwekma Ohlone Tribe has members from around the San Francisco Bay Area, and is composed of descendants of the Ohlones/Costanoans from the San Jose, Santa Clara, and San Francisco missions. The Ohlone/Costanoan Esselen Nation, consisting of descendants of intermarried Rumsen Costanoan and Esselen speakers of Mission San Carlos Borromeo, are centered at Monterey. The Amah-Mutsun Tribe are descendants of Mutsun Costanoan speakers of Mission San Juan Bautista, inland from Monterey Bay. Most members of another group of Rumsien language, descendants from Mission San Carlos, the Costanoan Rumsien Carmel Tribe of Pomona/Chino, now live in southern California. These groups, and others with smaller memberships (see groups listed under the heading Present Day below) are separately petitioning the federal government for tribal recognition.

Ohlone (disambiguation)

Ohlone typically refers to the Ohlone people.

Other uses include:

Ohlone languages

Ohlone mythology

Ohlone traditional narratives

List of Ohlone villages

Awaswas, one of the eight subdivisions of Ohlone

Chalon, one of the eight subdivisions of Ohlone

Chochenyo, one of the eight subdivisions of Ohlone

Karkin language, the language of one of the eight subdivisions of Ohlone

Mutsun language, the language of one of the eight subdivisions of Ohlone

Ramaytush, one of the eight subdivisions of Ohlone

Rumsen language, the language of one of the eight subdivisions of Ohlone

Tamyen, one of the eight subdivisions of Ohlone

Ohlone/Chynoweth (VTA), light rail route

Ohlone/Chynoweth–Almaden (VTA), light rail route

Ohlone College, a community college located in Fremont, California

Ohlone Greenway, a pedestrian and bicycle path in the East Bay region of the San Francisco Bay Area

Ohlone manzanita, Arctostaphylos ohloneana

Ohlone Wilderness, a regional part in California

Ohlone tiger beetle


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.


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