Selk'nam mythology

Selk'nam mythology is the body of myths of the Selk'nam and Haush people, Tierra del Fuego.


Selk'nam mythology is known today primarily from the Austrian ethnologist Martin Gusinde and the Franco-American ethnologist Anne Chapman's works.


In the Selk'nam and Haush mythology, cosmos is divided in four sho'on or infinite skies, which represent the four cardinal directions:[1]

  • Kamuk: Northern sky.
  • Kéikruk: Southern sky.
  • Wintek: Eastern sky. It is considered the most important of the four sho'on, being the residence of Temáukel and source of all that exists.[2][3][4]
  • Kenénik: Western sky.

Each shó'on is associated to one of the seasons. Kamuk symbolizes the spring and summer, Kéikruk symbolizes the winter, Kenénik symbolizes the autumn and, finally, Wintek symbolizes all the seasons and, possibly, even the time.[5]

Gods and spirits

The religion of the Selk'nam people tends to be described as polytheistic, mainly because of the existence of various characters which are usually considered deities. However, it is necessary to clarify that according to the beliefs of the Selk'nam people, only Temáukel is recognized as a god, while other characters are identified rather as mythological ancestors than gods. On the other hand, it also necessary to indicate that the characteristics attributed to these mythological ancestors are typical of those beings whom we might call gods. Because of this, it is possible to consider that the religion of the Selk'nam people was, rather, henotheistic. Thus, we have a superior being, similar to the God of the Abrahamic religions, which corresponds to Temáukel; mythological gods or ancestors called howenh, of which the first to inhabit the Earth was Kenos, a creator and terraforming god, sent by Temáukel;[2] and, finally, Xalpen and her subordinates, soorts, who were inhabitants of the underworld, which were represented by men in the Hain ceremony.


Temáukel is the supreme god of the Selk'nam and Haush pantheon[2][3] and, in theory, of all selk'nam deities, is the only one that is considered a god itself, since the other deities are identified, rather as mythological ancestors. He is a primordial god, therefore, has always existed.[6] He dwells in the celestial dome, in the eastern sky or Wintek and is the creator of it and the primitive Earth.


Howenh, though are gods, they were not recognized as such by the Selk'nam people, but rather as mythological ancestors, since the only divinity as such is Temáukel. The constitute the great forces of nature and terraforming elements, but before becoming such elements, they existed as humans. Among the most important are Kenos, the first howenh; Kwányip and Čénuke; Kojh, howenh of the sea; Kren, howenh of the sun; Kre, howenh of the moon; Josh, howenh of the snow; and Shenrr, howenh of the wind.


Kenos was the first howenh to inhabit the Earth. He is the creator, organizer and civilizing god in Selk'nam mythology, and the most important deity after Temáukel. He was sent by him from the Celestial dome to the early Earth, with the mission of organize it and create the mythological ancestors who would shape the Earth.[2][7]

Xalpen and her Soorts

Xalpen is the goddess of the underworld. It has seven companions called Soorts: Sate, Yoisik, Wakus, Keyaisl, Talen, Pawus and Sanu. Besides them, there are many soorts subordinates who are not assigned a specific name.[2]

See also


  1. ^ [1] Cosmología Selk'nam
  2. ^ a b c d e [2] Gusinde, M. Los indios de Tierra del Fuego. Tomo primero volumen II. Los Selk'nam
  3. ^ a b Chapman, A. Culturas tradicionales. Patagonia. Fin de un mundo. Los selknam de Tierra del Fuego
  4. ^ [3] Hidalgo, J. y col. Culturas de Chile. Etnografía. Sociedades Indígenas Contemporáneas y su Ideología.
  5. ^ [4] Chapman, A. Drama and Power in a Hunting Society: The Selk'nam of Tierra Del Fuego. Cambridge Studies in Social Anthropology, ISSN 0068-6794. Cambridge University Press 1982.
  6. ^ Pueblos originarios, Cosmología Selknam (in Spanish).
  7. ^ [5] Coloane, F. Velero anclado: crónicas. LOM Ediciones, 1995. ISBN 9567369275, 9789567369270.
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.

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