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Mythologies of the indigenous peoples of the Americas

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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.

Coyote and Opossum appear in the stories of a number of tribes.
Coyote and Opossum appear in the stories of a number of tribes.

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • ✪ Humans and Nature and Creation: Crash Course World Mythology #6
  • ✪ Coyote and Raven, American Tricksters: Crash Course World Mythology #22
  • ✪ Native American Myth - The Wendigo - The Omushkego Tribe - Extra Mythology
  • ✪ Native American Myth - Nlaka'pamux: The Adventures of Coyote - Extra Mythology
  • ✪ 6 Misconceptions About Native American People | Teen Vogue


Hi I’m Mike Rugnetta, this is Crashcourse Mythology, and today we’re wrapping up creation myths. Over the past four episodes we’ve seen the universe created from nothing, via the actions of earth mothers, sky fathers, and of course, vomiting supreme beings. We’ve seen creation used to explore the relationships between parents and children and between men and women. And snakes. And on that note, today, we’re going to examine the earthly interconnection between humans and animals. High five, Thoth! What? Yes, I know humans are animals. You know what I mean. INTRO Before we get into the creation myths, let’s start with a little scientific mythology about man’s best friend. Of course, I mean dogs. Sorry Thoth. Dogs were, if not the first, then among the first domesticated animals, and they play an important role in mythology. Romulus? Remus? I’m looking in your direction. One of the stories that we tell about the domestication of dogs is that it started when early hunter gatherers chose to tame and then breed some of the less aggressive wolves in order to increase the hunters’ capacity to capture game. Eventually, these cross and interbred wolves became dogs. Who’s a good boy? Who’s a good boy? Thats Right! Any canine that didn’t bite off your hand is a good boy! It’s a nice story and it seems to make sense, but there are problems with it. In an article in National Geographic, Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods argue that some scientists are flipping this narrative on its head and saying that it was wolves that sought out humans, rather than the other way around. It doesn’t make much sense for humans to try to capture wolves and get them to work for us. Early hunter gatherers were pretty good at hunting, which is why they might have been to blame for the destruction of megafauna in the prehistoric world. Also, why would humans want to share the spoils of the hunt with a wolf? They’re hungry. Like the wolf. Hare and Woods explain that scientists think it is more likely that wolves approached humans, probably by scavenging around their garbage pits. These would have been the friendliest wolves; aggressive ones would have been killed by anxious humans. So, it was the friendly wolves that, over many generations, were bred into the loveable vacuum hating rapscallions that we know and love. Don’t ask me about cats, though. I got nothing there. Are cats even really domesticated? I feel like they’re hiding something. There’s some plot. They’re up to something. Let’s return, as we so often do, to the Judeo-Christian Biblical story of creation from Genesis. In Chapter One, after creating the heavens and the earth and the stars and all the animals: God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen 1 26-27) … And God said, “Behold I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth and every tree with every seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. (Gen 1 29-30). Sounds like more gardening to me, surprise surprise. In the second chapter of Genesis, God grants humans control over the other earthly creatures in a slightly different way. In this version, God creates man before the animals. Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.” (Gen 2 18-19) Isn’t that nice? Giraffes and sharks and biting flies were made just to help us. Both creation stories set up a clear hierarchy in the animal world with human beings at the top given the power to do whatever they want with all animals below them. Basically, they’re our interns. The second version of the story affirms human control over animals in two ways. First, by having man created prior to the animal kingdom, humans are granted literal primacy. Then, their power is increased over animals by the first man receiving the privilege of naming them. And, I mean, he did a pretty good job. Especially with hippopotamus. But not all myths about humans and animals employ this strict hierarchy. In a number of creation stories from Native American tribes animals are partners in creation, often acting as guides or even as the key participants in creating the earth. The tribes of what is now the Southwestern United States have creation stories that follow a model we haven’t yet seen, the emergence myth. In these stories, humans or creatures that become humans are led from an original underground world into a series of interim worlds until they emerge into the surface world that is recognizably earth. In a Hopi version of this story, various animals including the Spider Grandmother, and a chipmunk help to find the entry hole or sipapuni, to the land beyond the sky. Apparently, there is one of these entry ways in the Grand Canyon. In a Navajo version of the emergence story, the people, who are also sort of insects, fly through the sipapuni into the higher world, assisted by swallows. I like these myths. Humans working with nature! Literally rising towards creation! It’s just a nice breath of fresh air, almost literally, after all the vomiting and death that we’ve had so far. Another type of creation story featuring animal helpers is called the earth diver myth. A good example comes from the Iroquois Indians of the Northeastern Woodlands of the United States. Let’s dive into Thoughtbubble. A long time ago, humans lived up in the sky in what we now consider heaven. The daughter of their great chief became very sick, and they were unable to cure her. In the village was a great tree on which grew the corn that had fed all the people. One of the chief’s friends had a dream in which he was told to tell the chief to lay his daughter beside the tree and dig it up. The chief did as the dream said. While this was going on an angry young man came along. The angry young man didn’t have the best bedside manner. He pointed out the tree provided the fruit which fed the people, and gave the sick daughter a push with his foot. She fell through the hole that had been left when the tree had been dug up. The young woman fell into this world, which at the time was all water. On this water floated ducks, and geese and all the other water birds. As there was no earth on this water at the time, there was no place for the falling woman to land, so the birds joined their bodies together into a sort of duck island, where the falling woman landed. After some time, the birds grew tired and asked who would care for the woman. The Great Turtle took the woman, and when he grew tired he asked who would take care of her. They decided to prepare land on which she would live-- the earth. The Toad, after some convincing, dove to the bottom of the primal sea, and collected soil which was placed on the broad carapace of the Great Turtle. It increased in size until it provided the land to accommodate all the living creatures. Thanks Thoughtbubble. And nice work, water birds. Also, Toad. Thoth, meet Toad. So there’s a lot more to the myth than this, but it captures the key elements of the earth diver story. Although it has some things in common with other creation myths we’ve seen, especially the idea that the world began as water, the relationship between human beings and animals it’s quite different. For one thing, far from being dumb creatures waiting to be named and tamed by a man, these animals can talk, think, deliberate and plan. Animal empowerment! They also have emotions similar to the ones we feel, especially getting tired and bored of a tedious task. Think about this the next time you watch a horse pull a cart, or you’re trying to entertain your cat by waving that feathery thing in front him. I’m telling you: they’re gettin’ fed up. Even more important than being given real agency in this creation story, it’s the animals who both save humans’ progenitors, and create our home. Without the helpful turtle and the brave toad, there would be no land to live on, and also no earth to grow food. The creation of the world requires animals and thus it is crucially important to be grateful to them. These Native American myths are very intricate and when you read them – and you should – it’s important to remember that they are very different from many of the other creation stories because they are living stories, communicated by way of a constantly evolving oral tradition, unlike more or less stable literary texts. Still, one of the interpretive take-aways from these emergence and earth diver stories is that Native Americans perceive a different relationship between animals and nature and humans than people from other traditions. According to the biblical tradition, human beings have a special relationship with God who prefers them to all other creatures. According to mythology professors Eva Thury and Margaret Devinney, “This privilege has been interpreted by some as giving believers the right to dispose of nature as they please.” On the other hand, according to these scholars, “Native Americans view this world … as the place where their destinies will be fulfilled, not by domination but by maintaining a balance achieved by living in harmony with themselves and other humans as well as with animals and the exterior world.” Now some of you might be saying, wait, this sounds like a stereotypical view of Native Americans, like they have some mystical connection with nature and that we should look to them for a way to understand how better to live in harmony with it. And you would be right, that is a cultural stereotype, one that has often been uncritically linked with an idea of Native Americans as primitive. But, I will say, maybe in comparison to the other stories we’ve heard, with all the vomiting, and wars, and eating of children, it’s kind of nice think of the universe as a place of collaboration, and not one of acrimony. Except that jerk who kicked that lady down the hole. Thanks for watching. See you next episode.


North America

There is no single mythology of the Indigenous North American peoples, but numerous different canons of traditional narratives associated with religion, ethics and beliefs.[1] Such stories are deeply based in Nature and are rich with the symbolism of seasons, weather, plants, animals, earth, water, fire, sky and the heavenly bodies. Common elements are the principle of an all-embracing, universal and omniscient Great Spirit, a connection to the Earth and its landscapes, a belief in a parallel world in the sky (sometimes also underground and / or below the water), diverse creation narratives, visits to the 'land of the dead', and collective memories of ancient sacred ancestors

A characteristic of many of the myths is the close relationship between human beings and animals (including birds and reptiles). They often feature shapeshifting between animal and human form. Marriage between people and different species (particularly bears) is a common theme. In some stories, animals foster human children.

Although most Native North American myths are profound and serious, some use light-hearted humour – often in the form of tricksters – to entertain, as they subtly convey important spiritual and moral messages. The use of allegory is common, exploring issues ranging from love and friendship to domestic violence and mental illness.

Some myths are connected to traditional religious rituals involving dance, music, songs and trance (e.g. the sun dance).

Most of the myths from this region were first transcribed by ethnologists during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These sources were collected from Native American elders who still had strong connections to the traditions of their ancestors. They may be considered the most authentic surviving records of the ancient stories, and thus form the basis of the descriptions below. All the original sources quoted are now available to read online through websites such as [1]

Northeast cultures (Southeastern Canada and Northeastern US, including the Great Lakes)

From the full moon fell Nokomis - from The Story of Hiawatha, 1910
From the full moon fell Nokomis - from The Story of Hiawatha, 1910

Myths from this region feature female deities such as the creator Big Turtle [2][3], and First Mother from whose body grew the first corn and tobacco.[4], The two great divine culture heroes are Glooskap[5][6] and Manabus[7].

Other stories explore the complex relationships between animals and human beings. Some myths were originally recited as verse narratives.[5]

Great Plains cultures

Stories unique to this region feature buffalo – the animals whose bodies provided the Plains peoples with food, clothing, housing and utensils. In some myths they are benign, in others fearsome and malevolent.[8] The Sun is an important deity;[9][10] other supernatural characters include Morning Star[9][4][10] and the Thunderbirds.[11][8][12]

A common theme is the making of a journey, often to a supernatural place across the landscape or up to the parallel world in the sky.[9][13] One of the most dominant tricksters of the Plains is Old Man, about whom numerous humorous stories are told.[14][9] An important supernatural hero is the Blood Clot Boy, transformed from a clot of blood.[15] [16]

Southeast US cultures

Important myths of this region deal with the origin of hunting and farming,[17][18] and the origin of sickness and medicine.[18]

See also:

California and Great Basin cultures

Myths of this region are dominated by the sacred creator / trickster Coyote. Other significant characters include the Sun People,[19] the Star Women[20] and Darkness[21].

See also:

Southwest Cultures

Myths of the Navajo, Apache and Pueblo peoples tell how the first human beings emerged from an underworld to the Earth. According to the Hopi Pueblo people, the first beings were the Sun, two goddesses known as Hard Being Women (Huruing Wuhti)[22] and Spider Woman.[22][23] It was the goddesses who created living creatures and human beings. Other themes include the origin of tobacco and corn,[24] and horses;[23] and a battle between summer and winter. Some stories describe parallel worlds in the sky[25] and underwater.[25]

See also:

Plateau cultures

Myths of the Plateau region express the people's intense spiritual feeling for their landscapes, and emphasise the importance of treating with respect the animals that they depend upon for food.[26][27] Sacred tricksters here include Coyote[28] and Fox.[29]

See also:

Salish mythology – a North American tribe or band in Montana, Idaho, Washington and British Columbia, Canada

Arctic cultures (Coastal Alaska, northern Canada and Greenland)

The myths of this region are strongly set in the landscape of tundra, snow and ice. Memorable stories feature the winds, the moon and giants. Some accounts say that Anguta is the supreme being, who created the Earth, sea and heavenly bodies. His daughter, Sedna created all living things – animals and plants. She is regarded also as the protecting divinity of the Inuit people.[30]

Subarctic cultures (Inland northern Canada and Alaska)

Here some myths reflect the extreme climate[31] and the people's dependence on salmon as a major food resource.[32] In imagination, the landscape is populated by both benign and malevolent giants.[33]

Northwestern cultures

In this region the dominant sacred trickster is Raven, who brought daylight to the world[34] and appears in many other stories. Myths explore the people's relationship with the coast and the rivers along which they traditionally built their towns. There are stories of visits to parallel worlds beneath the sea.[35] and up in the sky[36] See also:

Central America

South America

See also


  1. ^ Q. L. Pearce (11 May 2012). Native American Mythology. Greenhaven Publishing LLC. pp. 10–. ISBN 978-1-4205-0951-9.
  2. ^ Thwaites, Reuben Gold (ed.): The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents, Travels and Explorations of the Jesuit Missionaries in New France 1610 - 1791. Hurons, Vol. X, 1636 and Vol. XII, Quebec1637 (Cleveland: the Burrows Brothers Company, 1898). pp. 'What the Hurons Think of their Origin'.
  3. ^ Barbeau, C M (1915). "Huron and Wyandot mythology, with appendix containing earlier published records": 'The Origin of the World'. doi:10.4095/103488.
  4. ^ a b Curtis, Natalie: The Indians' Book (New York and London: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1907).
  5. ^ a b Leland, Charles Godfrey & Prince, John Dyneley: Kulóskap the Master, and other Algonkin Poems (New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1902).
  6. ^ Leland, Charles G.: The Algonquin Legends of New England (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1884).
  7. ^ Skinner, Alanson & Satterlee, John V.: Folklore of the Menomini Indians (New York: American Museum of Natural History, 1915).
  8. ^ a b Lowie, Robert H.: Myths and Traditions of the Crow Indians (American Museum of Natural History, 1918).
  9. ^ a b c d Wissler, Clark & Duvall, D.: Mythology of the Blackfoot Indians (New York: American Museum of Natural History, 1908).
  10. ^ a b Grinnell, George Bird: Blackfoot Lodge Tales – The Story of a Prairie People (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1892).
  11. ^ Dorsey, George A.: Wichita Tales, 1, 2 and 3 (Journal of American Folklore, 1902, 1903 and 1904).
  12. ^ Dorsey, James Owen: The Cehiga Language (Washington: Contributions to North American Ethnology, Government Printing Office, 1890).
  13. ^ Eastman, Charles A. & Eastman, Elaine Goodale: Wigwam Evenings – Sioux Folk Tales Retold (Boston: Little Brown,1909).
  14. ^ Michelson, Truman: Piegan Tales (Journal of American Folklore, 1911).
  15. ^ McLaughlin, Marie L.: Myths and Legends of the Sioux (publisher unknown, 1916).
  16. ^ Kroeber, A. L.: Gros Ventre Myths and Tales (New York: American Museum of Natural History, 1907).
  17. ^ Mooney, James: Myths of the Cherokees (Journal of American Folklore, 1888).
  18. ^ a b Mooney, James: Myths of the Cherokee (Bureau of American Ethnology, 1902).
  19. ^ Barrett, S. A.: A Composite Myth of the Pomo Indians (Journal of American Folklore, 1906).
  20. ^ Merriam, C. Hart: The Dawn of the World: Myths and Weird Tales Told by the Mewan (Miwok) Indians of California (Cleveland: Arthur H. Clarke Co., 1910).
  21. ^ Dixon, Roland B.: Achomawi and Atsugewi Tales (Journal of American Folklore, 1908 and1909).
  22. ^ a b Voth, H. R.: The Traditions of the Hopi (Field Columbian Museum Publication, 190.
  23. ^ a b Goddard, Pliny Earle: Myths and Tales from the White Mountain Apache (New York: American Museum of Natural History, 1919.
  24. ^ Lloyd, J. William: Aw-aw-tam Indian Nights, Being the Myths and Legends of the Pimas of Arizona (Westfield, N.J: The Lloyd Group, 1911).
  25. ^ a b Cushing, Frank Hamilton: Zuni Folk Tales (New York: G.P. Putman's Sons, 1901).
  26. ^ Boas, Franz (Ed): Folk-Tales of Salishan and Sahaptin Tribes (New York: American Folklore Society, 1917).
  27. ^ Sapir, Edward & Curtin, Jeremiah: Wishram Texts, Together with Wasco Tales and Myths (Publications of the American Ethnological Society, 1909).
  28. ^ Teit, James: Traditions of the Thompson River Indians of British Columbia (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin & Co. / London: David Nutt 1898).
  29. ^ Curtin, Jeremiah: Myths of the Modocs (Boston: Little, Brown, 1912).
  30. ^ author., Boas, Franz, 1858-1942. The central Eskimo. OCLC 11405803.
  31. ^ Bell, Robert: Legends of the Slavey Indians of the Mackenzie River (Journal of American Folklore, 1901).
  32. ^ Teit, James A.: Tahltan Tales 1 and 2 (Journal of American Folklore,1921).
  33. ^ Teit, James A.: Kaska Tales (Journal of American Folklore, 1917).
  34. ^ Swanton, John R.: Tlingit Myths and Texts (Bureau of American Ethnology, 1909).
  35. ^ Boas, Franz: Tsimshian Mythology (Bureau of American Ethnology, 1916).
  36. ^ Swanton, John R.: Tlingit Myths and Texts (Bureau of American Ethnology, 1909).


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This page was last edited on 3 April 2019, at 10:26
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