Zuni mythology

Zuni mythology is the oral history, cosmology, and religion of the Zuni people. The Zuni are a Pueblo people located in New Mexico. Their religion is integrated into their daily lives and respects ancestors, nature, and animals.[1] Because of a history of religious persecution by non-native peoples, they are very private about their religious beliefs. Roman Catholicism has to some extent been integrated into traditional Zuni religion.[1]

Cultural institutions that provide religious instruction and cultural stability include their priests, clans, kivas (kachina society), and healing societies.[1] A ceremonial cycle brings the community together. While some ceremonies are open to non-Zuni peoples, others are private; for instance the Shalako ceremony and feast has been closed to outsiders since 1990.[1]


A list of Kachinas includes:

  • Achiyalatopa - A monster with celestial powers that throws feathers of flint knives.
  • Ahayuta - Twin gods of war and were created by Awonawilona to protect the first people from their enemies, using lightning. The brothers are second only to Awonawilona himself.
  • Aihayuta - A second pair of twin-brother heroes who complement the first set of twin-brother heroes, the Ahayuta.
  • Amitolane - A rainbow spirit.
  • Átahsaia - A giant cannibal demon.
  • Awitelin Tsita and Apoyan Tachu - Sun Father and Earth Mother and the parents of all life on Earth, from whom all living creatures came. Formed when the green algae that Awonawilona had made hardened and split.
  • Awonawilona - Creator of the world, becoming the sun and making the 'mother-earth' and 'father-sky'. He made the clouds and ocean,
  • Kokopelli - A fertility deity, usually depicted as a humpbacked flutist player (often with a huge phallus and feathers or antenna-like protrusions on his head). Also associated as a rain god. Also known as Ololowishkya.
  • Ma'l Oyattsik'i - The Salt Mother. Annual barefoot pilgrimages have been made for centuries on the trail to her home, the Zuni Salt Lake.
  • Uhepono - A hairy giant that lived in the underworld; it has huge eyes and human limbs.
  • Yanauluha - A culture hero, who brought agriculture, medicine and all the customs of the Zuni people.



In a version of the Zuni creation story told to anthropologist Ruth Benedict, people initially dwelt crowded tightly together in total darkness in a place deep in the earth known as the fourth world. The daylight world then had hills and streams but no people to live there or to present prayer sticks to Awonawilona, the Sun and creator. Awonawilona took pity on the people and his two sons were stirred to lead them to the daylight world. The sons, who have human features, located the opening to the fourth world in the southwest, but they were forced to pass through the progressively dimming first, second and third worlds before reaching the overcrowded and blackened fourth world. The people, blinded by the darkness, identified the two brothers as strangers by touch and called them their bow priests. The people expressed their eagerness to leave to the bow priests, and the priests of the north, west, south and east who were also consulted agreed.

To prepare for the journey, four seeds were planted by Awonawilona's sons, and four trees sprang from them: a pine, a spruce, a silver spruce and an aspen. The trees quickly grew to full size, and the bow priests broke branches from them and passed them to the people. Then the bow priests made a prayer stick from a branch of each tree. They plunged the first, the prayer stick made of pine, into the ground and lightning sounded as it quickly grew all the way to the third world. The people were told that the time had come and to gather all their belongings, and they climbed up it to a somewhat lighter world but were still blinded. They asked if this is where they were to live and the bow priests said, "Not yet". After staying four days, they traveled to the second world in similar fashion: the spruce prayer stick was planted in the earth and when it grew tall enough the people climbed it to the next world above them. And again, after four days they climbed the length of silver spruce prayer stick to the first world, but here they could see themselves for the first time because the sky glowed from a dawn-like red light. They saw they were each covered with filth and a green slime. Their hands and feet were webbed and they had horns and tails, but no mouths or anuses. But like each previous emergence, they were told this was not to be their final home.

On their fourth day in the first world, the bow priests planted the last prayer stick, the one made of aspen. Thunder again sounded, the prayer stick stretched through the hole to the daylight world, and the people climbed one last time. When they all had emerged, the bow priests pointed out the Sun, Awonawilona, and urged the people to look upon him despite his brightness. Unaccustomed to the intense light, the people cried and sunflowers sprang from the earth where their tears fell. After four days, the people traveled on, and the bow priests decided they needed to learn to eat so they planted corn fetishes in the fields and when these had multiplied and grown, harvested it and gave the harvest to the men to bring home to their wives. The bow priests were saddened to see the people were smelling the corn but were unable to eat it because they had no mouths. So when they were asleep, the bow priests sharpened a knife with a red whetstone and cut mouths in the people's faces. The next morning they were able to eat, but by evening they were uncomfortable because they could not defecate. That night when they were asleep the bow priests sharpened their knife on a soot whetstone and cut them all anuses. The next day the people felt better and tried new ways to eat their corn, grinding it, pounding, and molding it into porridge and corncakes. But they were unable to clean the corn from their webbed hands, so that evening as they slept the bow priests cut fingers and toes into their hands and feet. The people were pleased when they realized their hands and feet worked better, and the bow priests decided to make one last change. That night as they slept, the bow priests took a small knife and removed the people's horns and tails. When the people awoke, they were afraid of the change at first, but they lost their fear when sun came out and grew pleased that the bow priests were finally finished.[2]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "Zuni - Religion and Expressive Culture." (retrieve 21 Nov 2011)
  2. ^ Leonard, Scott A; McClure, Michael (2004). Myth and Knowing (illustrated ed.). McGraw-Hill. ISBN 978-0-7674-1957-4.

External links


Achiyalatopa is a giant monster in Zuni mythology. The monster has celestial powers, and possesses feathers made of flint knives, which it throws at objects.


According to Zuni mythology, Ahayu'da (also known as "War Gods"') are the twin gods of war. They are also physical representations endowed with certain spiritual powers.


In Zuñi mythology, the Aihayuta are a 2nd pair of twin-brother heroes who complement the 1st set of twin-brother heroes, the Ahayuta.


In the myths of the Pueblo Zuni people of New Mexico, Awonawilona is known as the "Supreme life-giving power" and the creator of all with a name translating to "All Container". The deity's gender is not specified in myth and referred to as either he or she. In the beginning, Awonawilona created and became all configurations of water in the world; as a result fog, clouds, large bodies of water, and air were formed. In other versions, fog and steam were already existent before Awonawilona. The new combination of light, clouds, and air allowed for vegetation and made Awonawilona the "essence" of life as s/he created the universe. The universe was made up of 9 layers: the first layer was the earth and the other 8 were homes for various animals, birds, and trees.Eventually Awonawilona chose to embody the sun and created the deity the Sun-father, which lead to the formation of several other gods such as Awitelin Tsita (The Four-Fold Containing Mother Earth), and Apoyan Tachu (All Covering Father-sky) from green scum formed over the waters. As the myth unfolds, the deities created by Awonawilona leads to the creation of humans and all living creatures.Like all mythologies, there are many different versions of the Zuni creation story. In one version, the creature Poshaiyankya escapes from the four-fold womb of Awitelin Tsita and convinces the Sun father, Awonawilona, to send the Ahayuta, the twin gods of war, to bring the rest of womb dwellers into the light. Other versions of the myth say that Awonawilona sent the twin gods of war to bring forth people that would give him offerings and prayers.


Kokopelli is a fertility deity, usually depicted as a humpbacked flute player (often with feathers or antenna-like protrusions on his head), who has been venerated by some Native American cultures in the Southwestern United States. Like most fertility deities, Kokopelli presides over both childbirth and agriculture. He is also a trickster god and represents the spirit of music.


The Kyanakwe are, according to Lévi-Strauss, a "mythical population" against whom in Zuñi mythology the ancestors of the Zuñi engaged in war. Peace was not an option; the gods would grant final victory to one group alone. The Kyanakwe are described variously as hunters and as gardeners.


Kököle (also called Kökö and Kököle-ish) are 'spirit dolls' of the Zuni Indians.

Some live up in the mountains where they search for food, however most live in the "Great Village" at the bottom of the mythical Lake of the Dead. The Lake of the Dead exists on another plane of existence beneath Spring Lake at the junction of the Zuni River and the Little Colorado River. Offerings of food are thrown into the rivers just upstream of this junction so that the whirlpools can carry them down to the spirits of the dead. Down below in the "Great Village," the Kökö live happy lives and dress always in beautifully ceremonial garb, visiting the living only occasionally to bring good luck and rewards for their devotion.

For those Kököle who live in the mountains, however, they perpetually starve because no one can wash offerings down to their plane. These Kököle in the mountains and the woods are often angry and bring nothing but sorrow to those who encounter them.

In the original Zuni Indian myths, the Kököle were the spirits of children who were drowned after the emergence of people from the underworld as told in the Zuni Creation Story. These children remain in the "Great Village" always; however, the rest of the Kököle in the mountains are people who have died, come back to life, and then returned to the underworld. For them there is no rest and no food.

Kököle also include the spirits of the recently dead. The Kököle of the recently dead frequently leave the "Great Village" to make rain, bring good crops and even bless children with strong lungs. Of the recently dead, those who return upon the death of their loved ones will take them back to the "Great Village". Husbands will in this way join their wives and wives their husbands, but children who return to visit their loved ones will be cast out of the Lake of the Dead, to become Uwanammi or water monsters. These children become angry and instead of gentle rain they bring violent storms in their discontent tantrums, attempting to rain their way back into the Zuni river and hence back to the "Great Village".

Kököle dolls are not made as idols or fetishes, but rather as teaching tools for children and as fertility charms for older brides.

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.

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.


In Zuni and Hopi mythology Patung (known as the "Squash Kachina) is a kachina fetish that relates to healing and agriculture. The Hopi belief is that Patung showed the Puebloan peoples how to plant corn, then vanished.At Hopi Patung is a Mongkatsina (a chief among the Katsinam). The Pumpkin Clan is devoted to Patung, although there are few members left of the clan and as a result their stories are not well known. Although Patung's function as a wuya is unknown and may be lost, he is still seen in use as a fetish for protection or healing Mesa. Patung is considered a shape shifter, able to become a Badger. Patung is always seen heading south in a protective and healing fetish set or Mesa. Characteristics associated with Patung include tenaciousness, passion, control, persistence and earthiness. He is most often associated with the color red and is believed to have knowledge of healing roots and herbs. Patung appears in the fall months, hiding among the harvest, usually in the shade on the southern side of a rock or tree. The katchina doll on Hopi is often made of dried gourds, pumpkins, or most commonly dried squash.

Toho (kachina)

In the religious beliefs of the Native American Pueblo people, Toho is a hunter kachina for the Hopi and Zuni tribes. Toho, The mountain lion kachina, often accompanies such animals as the deer or antelope kachinas when they appear in the Line Dances of spring. Armed with yucca whips, he patrols the procession in company with He-e-e, Warrior Woman, and other warrior or guard kachinas. Thought to be the most powerful hunter, the Toho is the guardian of the northern direction. He is associated with the color yellow and appears in both hunting and healing fetish sets, always facing north. Toho can be represented by a naked man wearing a mask, whiskers, and yellow feathers upon either side of his head to look like the lion's ears, or carved as a mountain lion fetish in an ancient, primitive style. Most mountain lion fetishes are represented with their tails up and over the back. Toho is there to remind individuals to persevere, clarify goals, and move forward to achieving dreams. He steadies the hunter and protects his territory.


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.


The underworld is the world of the dead in various religious traditions, located below the world of the living. Chthonic is the technical adjective for things of the underworld.

The concept of an underworld is found in almost every civilization, and "may be as old as humanity itself". Common features of underworld myths are accounts of living people making journeys to the underworld, often for some heroic purpose. Other myths reinforce traditions that entrance of souls to the underworld requires a proper observation of ceremony, such as the ancient Greek story of the recently dead Patroclus haunting Achilles until his body could be properly buried for this purpose. Persons having social status were dressed and equipped in order to better navigate the underworld.A number of mythologies incorporate the concept of the soul of the deceased making its own journey to the underworld, with the dead needing to be taken across a defining obstacle such as a lake or a river to reach this destination. Imagery of such journeys can be found in both ancient and modern art. The descent to the underworld has been described as "the single most important myth for Modernist authors".


The Zuni (Zuni: A:shiwi; formerly spelled Zuñi) are Native American Pueblo peoples native to the Zuni River valley. The current day Zuni are a Federally recognized tribe and most live in the Pueblo of Zuni on the Zuni River, a tributary of the Little Colorado River, in western New Mexico, United States. The Pueblo of Zuni is 55 km (34 mi) south of Gallup, New Mexico. The Zuni tribe lived in multi level adobe houses. In addition to the reservation, the tribe owns trust lands in Catron County, New Mexico, and Apache County, Arizona. The Zuni call their homeland Halona Idiwan’a or Middle Place.

Zuni (disambiguation)

The Zuni are a Puebloan people of the Southwestern United States.

Zuni ethnobotany

Zuni language

Zuni mythology

Zuni musicZuni may also refer to:

Zuni, Colorado, unincorporated community in Adams County

Zuni, Virginia, an unincorporated town in Virginia in the United States

Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico in the U.S., named after the Zuni people

Zuni Salt Lake, a salt lake about 60 miles south of the Zuni Pueblo

Zuni River, a sacred river to the Zuni people, flowing from New Mexico to Arizona in the U.S.

Zuni Cafe, a San Francisco restaurant owned by former chefs of Chez Panisse

Zuni (rocket), a rocket developed for both air-to-air and air-to-ground operations

Zuni (website), a Vietnamese e-learning website

USS Zuni (ATF-95), a United States Navy warship named after the Zuni people

Applebay Zuni, glider

Zuni fetishes

Zuni fetishes are small carvings made from various materials by the Zuni people. These carvings have traditionally served a ceremonial purpose for their creators and depict animals and icons integral to their culture. As a form of contemporary Native American art, they are sold with secular intentions to collectors worldwide.


Átahsaia (alternatively spelled A'tahsaia or Atasaya) is a giant cannibalistic demon in the religion and mythos of the Zuni people of the Southwestern United States. The word has been rendered both as a proper name, and as a generic plural noun indicating a class of demons (e.g., "the áthasaia").

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