Cherokee mythology: Wikis


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The water spider is said to have first brought fire to the inhabitants of the earth in the basket on her back.[1]

This article concerns itself with the mythology of the Cherokee, Native Americans indigenous to the Appalachias, and today are enrolled in the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Cherokee Nation, and United Keetowah Band of Cherokee Indians.



The Cherokee revered the Great Spirit, said by some sources to be called the Yowa (a name so sacred that only a priest could say it) but in the ancient legends simply referred to as "the Apportioner,"[citation needed] who presided over all things and created the Earth.

The theology of Yowa was slightly panentheistic in nature. In Cherokee belief, the Physical Universe was an expression of the Spiritual, and Life was the connection between the physical and spiritual universes. Thus, Life was sacred, especially human life, and the spirits had to be asked for the animal that was about to be killed in a hunt before it could be killed. It was believed that when a certain plant or animal went extinct or died out, it was because the Power from Yowa that had given it substance and life had been taken back for a time. The Cherokee believed that all spirits and the forces of nature came out of Yowa and were subjected to him, and that people were the center of Yowa's creation. Unlike several tribes, the Cherokee didn't consider there to be a "Sky-Father" and "Earth-Mother," but rather considered Yowa the Great Spirit to be the single Supreme Being and the earth to be the place that he had created for them. Yowa was omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient.

Signs, visions, dreams

They held that signs, visions, dreams, and powers were all gifts of the spirits, and that their world was intertwined with and presided over by the spirit world.

Other venerated spirits

The Cherokee believed that every aspect and thing had a spirit presiding over it, but did not hold a belief in multiple gods. All figures identified as 'gods' were simply greater beings in the Cherokee belief whose names were so great there were no English words for them, and thus they were recognized as 'gods' by Englishmen. However, the Cherokee paid direct respect to and worshipped only Yowa.

The thunder beings

The Cherokee held that there were two classes of the thunder beings, those who lived close to the Earth, and the holiest and most powerful of the thunder beings who lived in the land of the west beyond the Mississippi River, and visited the people to bring the rains and blessings from the South.

  • Ani Yuntikwalaski: Spirits of thunder and lightning (the thunder beings)
  • Asgaya Gigagei (Thunder Beings of the West): Spirit of thunderstorms, also called Asagaya Gigaei

It was believed that the thunder beings who lived close to the Earth's surface could and did harm the people at times. There were three Thunder Beings from the West in the ancient legends, a greater spirit and his two sons.

Green corn ceremony

The thunder beings were viewed as the most powerful of the servants of the Apportioner (Creator Spirit), and were revered in the first dance of the Green Corn Ceremony held each year, as they were directly believed to have brought the rains for a successful corn crop.


The Cherokee assigned a feminine personality to the concept of the personification of spiritual evil, and named her "wi-na-go" in the ancient language, and believe that mosquitos were created when she was destroyed in ancient legends.[citation needed] There is also Nun'Yunu'Wi, an evil spirit monster who preys on humans, and Kalona Ayeliski (Raven Mocker). These spirits preyed on the souls of the dying and would torment their victims until they died. After which they would eat the heart of the victim. Kalona Ayeliski are invisible, except to a medicine man, and the only way to protect a potential victim was to have a medicine man which knew how to drive Kalona Ayeliski off, since they were scared of him.

Animals, plants, and disease

It was also believed that all human disease and suffering originated with the killing of animals for improper purposes, and that for each animal killed for pleasure or without proper ceremonies, it allowed a new disease to enter the physical world from the spirit world. It was also believed that the plants, in response to witnessing the suffering in the world, made a medicine to cure each sickness that entered the world in order to restore the balance of forces between the two worlds, the physical world and the spirit world.


  1. ^ Powell, J. W. Nineteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, Part 1, 1897-98. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1900. Page 242.

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