Native American Mythology


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MHS Enduring Mythology Online Course, by Antonia McNaught

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  • Native American Mythology

    1. 1. Native America n Mytholo gy By Antonia McNaught
    2. 2. Back grou nd • The Native American tribes and people do not have just one system of mythology that is followed, each tribe had developed their own stories. But Underlying all the myths is the idea that spiritual forces can be sensed through the natural world—including clouds, winds, plants, and animals—that they shape and sustain. Many stories explain how the actions of gods, heroes, and ancestors gave the earth its present form. • According to the mythologies of most Native American cultures, their people originated in the places where their ancestors traditionally lived. Some tales speak of ancient migrations. However, Native Americans are descended from hunting and gathering peoples of northeastern Asia who traveled across the Bering Sea into North America during the most recent Ice Age. During that Ice Age, which ended around 8000 B . C ., the level of the oceans was much lower, and a bridge of land linked Siberia and Alaska. Some groups may also have reached Alaska from Siberia by boat or by walking on ice. Over thousands of years, the population of North America grew and diversified into the peoples and cultures that Europeans encountered when they began to colonize the continent in the A . D . 1500s.
    3. 3. Background (cont.)
    4. 4. Major Gods, Deities and Spirits • A vast majority of the Native American myths have a higher power in charge, a powerful deities. • In many Native American myths Father Sky and Mother Earth or Mother corn are the prominent forces. • The high god of the Pawnee people, Tirawa, gave duties and powers to the Sun and Moon, the Morning Star and Evening Star, the Star of Death, and the four stars that support the sky. The Lakota people believe that the sun, sky, earth, wind, and many other elements of the natural, human, and spiritual worlds are all aspects of one supreme being, Wakan Tanka. • Kachinas, spirits of the dead who link the human and spiritual worlds, play an important role in the mythologies of the Pueblo peoples of the American Southwest, including the Zuni and Hopi Indians. In Hopi mythology, the creator deity is a female being called Spider Woman. Among the Zuni, the supreme creator is Awonawilona, the sun god. The mythology of the Navajo Indians—who live in the same area as the Hopi and Zuni but are not a Pueblo people—focuses on four female deities called Changing Woman, White Shell Woman, Spider Woman, and First Woman.
    5. 5. Poles & Their • The Totem Pole is an arrangement of symbols, usually an Meanings of animal associated with a legend created for the purpose conveying a story or event. The figures on the poles usually represent mythical beings from the tribe's ancestral past. Totems were a form of communication for the Pacific Northwest Coast Native Americans as they had no written language and thus the Story Poles were used to convey their legends, stories and events. • Only the most affluent of tribe members could afford to have a totem carved. The carver would often live with the family who commissioned the pole during the carving process.
    6. 6. Poles & Their Meanings • Raven - The mercurial trickster of Northwest Coast Native lore. Curious and mischievious, often misbehaving but never boring. • Sea Turtle - This totem is representative of Mother Earth. • Thunderbird - A mythological bird known to manifest the rolling of thunder while beating its wings and creating lightening when blinking it's eyes. Known to kill whales. • Eagle - Intelligent and resourceful. He rules the sky and is able to transform himself into a human. • Wolf - Very powerful totem who can help people that are sick or in need. • Bear - A teacher symbol as it is believed that Bear taught the People to catch salmon and pick berries. • Owl - The owl is a very respected animal and is thought to symbolize the souls of the departed.
    7. 7. Totem Poles
    8. 8. American Beliefs and Religion • “Native American beliefs are deeply rooted in their culture. We believe EVERYTHING is sacred from the largest mountain to the smallest plant and animal. A lesson can be found in all things and experiences and everything has a purpose. To sum up Native Spirituality; it is about HONOR, LOVE, and RESPECT. Not only do we love, honor, and respect our Creator and our Mother Earth, but also every living thing. It is about being in touch with ourselves and everything around us. It is about knowing and understanding that we are part of everything, and everything is a part of us. We are all One. We also believe that our Elders hold the answers. Our Elders keep our culture alive. We have much to learn from our Elders, and they deserve and receive our utmost respect. Listed below is some poems, quotes and rules that show the beliefs Native Americans hold. No matter the person nor the tribe it is taken from. you can see a common string that runs through them. I have been asked many times what it is to be Native American. What it is we believe, and though I have given the above defintion to this day I still refer to the simple words of a departed loved one and teacher. White Feather; Navajo/Apache born medicine man.” • “Native American isnt blood; it is what is in the heart. The love for the land. The respect for it, those who inhabit it; and the respect and acknowledgement of the spirits and the elders. That is what it is to be Indian.” (White Feather, Navajo Medicine Man)
    9. 9. Native American Myths • Although the legends relate to the origin of the courting flute, how it should be made, and its purpose, they also act as reinforcing agents for Sioux belief and culture, which help meet the immediate needs of the people. These reinforcements were so necessary because of the many changes in life style the Sioux have had to endure. One of the beliefs they reinforce is that, in order to attain or achieve something, a person must seek the help of the Great Spirit and in order to receive His help, one must go through the sweat lodge purification ceremony and go on a vision quest. It was believed that only through these two activities could tribal members find help and guidance for their needs and goals. The legends also reinforce important aspects of Sioux culture. A man's status and wealth were determined by his abilities as a hunter and warrior and not his accumulation of material wealth. For the Sioux marriage, having many children, and being able to provide for them were aspects of their conception of status and wealth. In order to achieve them, a man first had to prove himself as a good hunter and warrior. The plots of the three legends are different, but their underlying themes are the same. They serve as a means of explaining the existence of the courting flute in Sioux culture as well as a means of perpetuating Sioux belief and culture. They also relate a code of ethics which governs aspects of social conduct. • Native American legends and myths add insight to the story of the Native American flute and provide a rich texture for those connected with the instrument. They augment and add dimension to the archaeological record, the early anthropological work with indigenous cultures, and the ongoing ethnomusicological studies.
    10. 10. Native American Myths • This is a clip of the Native American flute: v=SoDpjyze9KQ
    11. 11. Goddesses, and Symbols • The Great Spirit- The Great Spirit was known to the Lakota tribe as Wakan Tanka; however, Wakan Tanka has later been translated to mean something a bit closer to "Great Mystery". The Great Spirit is believe to be apart of everything and in everything - animals, rocks, water, the earth, the sky, and inside of us. • The Spider Grandmother- She is known as the creator of life and has woven us and the universe together. She is widely compared to the Great Spirit, in that she is a creator Native American goddess and is believed by some to be everywhere and in everything. • The White Buffalo Calf Woman- She is not a goddess but looked more of as a prophetic symbol in the Native American culture. Pte Ska Win is her Lakota name and the story goes that she appeared to a few Lakota men about two thousand years ago. It is said that she presented the Lakota peoples with a very sacred gift - a sacred peace pipe
    12. 12. Major Gods, Goddesses and Symbols
    13. 13. Goddesses, and Symbols • Coyote- The Coyote was said to have escorted the first humans into the mundane world from the spiritual world. He acted as a spiritual guide to them. He also brought along seeds for life that is why he is also thought of as a spirit of creation. • The Thunderbird- Seen as a symbol of power, provision, transformation, and glory • Feathers- Symbols of prayers, sources of ideas or marks of honor. Representing the Creative Force, and are taken from birds with the attribute for which they might be used: goose flight feathers to fledge an arrow. Geese are known for their long flights; Eagle feathers for honor & connect the user with the Creator. To decorate a kachina mask Turkey feathers are commonly used. Feathers may appear plain, barred, banded, or decorated. • The Bear- Protector. Physical strength & leadership. Frequently mentioned as "first helper" in creation & emergence stories.
    14. 14. Goddesses, and Symbols
    15. 15. Works Cited • "Legends and Myths of the Native American Flute." Legends and Myths of the Native American Flute. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2013. < • "Myths Encyclopedia." Native American Mythology. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2013. <>. • "Native American Gods and Goddesses." HubPages. HubPages, n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2013. <>. • "Native American Symbols - Home." Native American Symbols. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2013. < • "Native Beliefs." Native Beliefs. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2013. < • "Totem Poles, Carvings | Unique totem pole art." Totem Poles. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2013. <>.