• Cherokee myth speaks of the Earth as a great island floating in the sea, held in place by four great cords placed at the four directions and attached to the sky vault, itself made of solid rock. When the Earth grows old and is worn out its cords will break so allowing the Earth to retire to the deep. Our world was first formed when a Water-Beetle brought some mud to the surface of the sea, at which point it grew and became the Earth. The animals, who until that time lived above the sky vault, came and made their homes on the Earth...once it was dry enough; in time humans would join them (Mooney:1995 pp.239-240). Notably, animals, plants, and other natural phenomena, occupy prominant roles in origin stories; the story of Selu (corn) and the origin of medicine story, are two further examples. Also of interest is the story of Stone Coat, the living Rock, outlined below. It will be noticed that in the origin myth outlined above there is no reference to a Creator, and neither does the story begin with the first act of creation but with a world already inhabited with life, this latter condition, according to Mooney, holding true for all recorded native myths concerned with world origins (Mooney:1995 p.430). Also, in the aforementioned myth recorded by Mooney, it is stated that the maker of the plants and animals is unknown. The Cherokee myths collected by Mooney in the work cited, suggest little evidence of a Creator. Nevertheless, other authors have claimed there to be such a figure in Cherokee belief, some of whom are quoted by Mooney in the said work, and contemporary Cherokee certainly do speak of a Creator. According to Payne, the Cherokee believed the world to have been created by a number of beneficent beings from an upper world; a similar belief is found among the Sioux people in the form of Wakan Tanka. The Sun and the Moon, having been created by these beings, were left to finish and rule the world, and in turn, according to Payne, were both adored as the Creator (Payne, about 1835, quoted in Mooney:1995 pp.436, 440). Also, the word that Mooney translates as the "great Apportioner" in the origin of strawberries myth, and which he identifies with the Sun, has been said by the Cherokee scholars Jack and Anna Kilpatrick to be used most commonly to designate the "Supreme Being: The Provider"; the identity of the Supreme with the sun is said to be in error, which assertion is supported by Payne's account above which states that Sun and Moon were created (Awiakta:1993 p.122). A notable feature of Cherokee belief is the use of kinship terms in explanations of natural phenomena. The Sun and Moon, for example, are said to be sister and brother respectively, whilst humans are designated as the Sun's grandchildren and the younger brothers of the Moon. Also, the thunder is known in myth as the Little Men. These are the two sons of Kanati (the Hunter) and Selu (corn); "...when they talk to each other we hear low rolling thunder in the west" (Mooney:1995 p.248). In Cherokee myth there exists little difference between human beings and animals, and like humans the animals are organized into tribes with chiefs, townhouses and councils, and both are destined for the same afterlife in the Darkening land in the west. At one time humans and animals lived in harmony, but then humans began to kill the animals for food and showed them no respect. So the animals made war on humans and inflicted diseases upon them; the plants, however, were friends of humankind and gave them medicines (See the origin of medicine story, Ibid. pp.250-252). According to Cherokee tradition, all tribal dances and songs originated in a single event, namely, the slaying and sacrifice of a monster called Stone Coat or the Stone Man (Nun'yunu'wi), so named for his "skin of solid rock". As Stone Coat burned in the fire made for him by the people, there issued forth from him songs, a gift to the people to aid them in all walks of life. These songs were to be learned and passed on from generation to generation. The songs were used at social gatherings, for success in hunting and warfare, and as medicine for all kinds of sickness. The Eastern Cherokee believed that the animal killed by the hunter following the use of a chant would come to life again, so preventing the decline of game (Speck/Broom:1993 pp.13-18, 84). Mooney states, however, that every animal is designated a certain life span, and if it is killed before its time its death will only be temporary and it is soon restored to life; the killing of the animal is thus a minor crime (Mooney:1995 p.262). For more info, see
  • In a search for order and sustaining that order, the olden Cherokee devised a simple, yet seemingly complex belief system. Many of the elements of the original system remain today. Although some have evolved or otherwise been modified, the traditional Cherokee of today recognize the belief system as an integral part of day-to-day life. Certain numbers play an important role in the ceremonies of the Cherokee. The numbers four and seven repeatedly occur in myths, stories and ceremonies. Four represents all the familiar forces, also represented in the four cardinal directions. These cardinal directions are east, west, north and south. Certain colors are also associated with these directions. The number seven represents the seven clans of the Cherokee, and are also associated with directions. In addition to the four cardinal directions, three others exist. Up (the Upper World), down (the Lower World) and center (where we live, and where ?you? always are). The number seven also represents the height of purity and sacredness, a difficult level to attain. In olden times, it was believed that only the owl and cougar had attained this level, and since then, they have always had a special meaning to the Cherokee. The pine, cedar, spruce, holly and laurel also attained this level. They play a very important role in Cherokee ceremonies. Cedar is the most sacred of all, and the distinguishing colors of red and white set it off from all others. The wood from the tree is considered very sacred, and in ancient days, was used to carry the honored dead. Because of these early beliefs, the traditional Cherokee have a special regard for the owl and cougar. They are the honored ones in some versions of the Creation story. They were the only two who were able to stay awake for the seven nights of Creation. The others fell asleep. Today, because of this, they are nocturnal in their habits and both have night vision. The owl is seemingly different from other birds, and he resembles an old man as he walks. Sometimes, the owl can be mistaken for a cat with his feather tufts and silhouette of his head. This resemblance honors his nocturnal brother, the cougar. The owls? eyes are quite large and set directly in front like a persons, and he can close one independent of the other. The cougar is an animal whose has screams which resemble those of a woman. He is an animal who has habits that are very secret and unpredictable. The cedar, pine, spruce, laurel and holly trees have leaves all year long. These plants, too, stayed awake seven nights during the Creation. Because of this, they were given special power, and they are among the most important plants in Cherokee medicine and ceremonies. Traditionally, the Cherokee are deeply concerned with keeping things separated and in the proper classification, or category. For example, when sacred items are not in use they are wrapped in deerskin, or white cloth, and kept in a special box or other place. The circle is a familiar symbol to traditional Cherokees. The Stomp Dance and other ceremonies involve movements in a circular pattern. In ancient times, the fire in the council house was built by arranging the wood in a continuous "X" so that the fire would burn in a circular path. Very basic to the Cherokee belief system is the premise that good is rewarded, while evil is punished. Even though the Cherokee strictly believe in this type of justice, there are times when things happen that the system just does not explain. It is often believed that some events that are unexplainable are caused by someone using medicine for evil purposes. Witchcraft among the Cherokee is not at all like that of the European cultures. To understand and respect the beliefs of traditional Cherokees about using medicine, conjuring, and witchcraft, you must first consider the early types of Native American societies, and consider how this has remained an integral part of Cherokee culture. Purification Prayer " Great Spirit (U-ne-qua), whose voice I hear in the wind, Whose breath gives life to all the world. Hear me; I need your strength and wisdom. Let me walk in beauty, and make my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset. Make my hands respect the things you have made and my ears sharp to hear your voice. Make me wise so that I may understand the things you have taught my people. Help me to remain calm and strong in the face of all that comes towards me. Let me learn the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock. Help me seek pure thoughts and act with the intention of helping others. Help me find compassion without empathy overwhelming me. I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother, but to fight my greatest enemy MYSELF. Make me always ready to come to you with clean hands and straight eyes. So when life fades, as the fading sunset, my spirit may come to you without shame. "

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