Cherokee Creation Myth by Morgan Bettin-Coleman

History and Culture

The Cherokee people are originally from the southeastern part of the United States, and are a part of the Iroquois linguistic family. Like many Native American tribes, the Cherokee people value their relationship with all living things and the earth, and are thankful for everything the Great Spirit has created. Natural healing remains an important part of Cherokee culture, and is often facilitated by a Medicine Man or Medicine Woman. The Cherokee people have various ceremonial traditions, including stomp dances, drumming, and other musical traditions. Because of their initial location in the southeast, many Cherokee people have become used to interacting with other cultural groups, including white settlers and black slaves.

Trail of Tears

In the late 1830s, the Cherokee people were forced to migrate to an area in present-day Oklahoma from the eastern land they had previously inhabited, as a result of Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal Act. This event was called the Trail of Tears because of its devastating effects. Around 4,000 of the 15,000 Cherokees died as a result of hunger, disease, exhaustion, etc.

Cherokee change of location

Creation of the earth

creation story ft. water beetle
  • The council made up of both animals and people shows that people are not superior to animals - both groups are on the same level and should work together.

origin of diseases and medicine

  • The humans were punished for acting as though they were superior to the other life forms, and were therefore taught a lesson because of this and still suffer today. This demonstrates the power of animals and their need for respect, but also the benefits of plants. This also explains why the Cherokee honor the animals they have killed, and still use plants to cure ailments. From this myth, we also learn that each and every life form has a purpose
This story explains why chipmunks have stripes down their backs, and why grubs crawl on the ground. It also demonstrates the respect Native American must have for deer and maintain the treaty, otherwise they will contract rheumatism.

origin of corn

images of Selu, the corn mother
  • This story explains the importance of corn to the Cherokee culture. Additionally, this demonstrates the problems of being lazy and disobedient. Selu's sons, Home Boy and Wild Boy, only dragged their mother's body around three times, instead of seven (like she instructed them), and this is why the corn that grows each year must be hoed. This myth also demonstrates Selu's selflessness and forgiveness, as she told her sons, "'I ask only this one thing: When you have killed me, drag my body over the ground seven times. Wherever my blood touches the ground, a plant will grow. This plant you will call 'selu (corn)'. You will take care of it, and it will take care of you and feed you. As the stalks grow, they will form ears. You may pick some ears when they are green, for roasting or boiling. They are very good. The rest you must allow to get ripe and hard. This you will use for hominy and to make your bread. Don't forget to save the best for seed. As long as you have this corn with you, you have me with you. I am Selu, the Corn Mother.'" when they told her they thought she was a witch and had to kill her.

Sun myth

  • This story demonstrates the importance of appeasing the gods, as grandmother sun thought her grandchildren (the people) hated her, as they would always squint when looking at her. Because of this, she became angry and starting shining brighter and hotter, starting fires and drying up crops. Problem-solving and help from spirits is also important to this story, as the people had to search for a solution to the destruction caused by grandmother sun, and they turned to the Little People (Cherokee spirits who often helped the people, but could also be harmful) for advice.
little people
the little people turned men into snakes (Spread-Head, Copperhead, Rattlesnake, and Horned Snake) to combat the sun
  • Another lesson we can learn from this story is the importance of obedience, and consequences that can result from defiance. The Little People sent seven men to the Jusgina Ghost Country to retrieve the Sun's daughter, and instructed them to keep her in a box and not open it until they returned to their own country. However, the daughter continued to whine to be let out for food or drink, so the men opened the box just a crack. This allowed her to escape, and when they returned home without the Daughter of the Sun, the Sun began to cry and cry. The people began dancing and singing to cheer her up.
Sun Dance
  • Although this did not take away her sorrow, the Sun was touched by their actions. Then, she saw a redbird down on earth, which turned out to be her daughter, who had chosen to stay on earth. This made the Sun happy.
cardinal and summer tanager, two examples of red birds that the "Dojuwa" (the bird the Sun's daughter turned into) could have been
  • I picked this myth because I am part Cherokee, and I wanted to learn more about this part of my culture. I also really like the values that the Cherokee people emphasize, especially the relationship between and value of all living things.

important gods

Great Spirit - the Creator of everything, omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient
Little Deer - This is the god of the deer. When a deer is killed, its soul stays near the body. Little Deer visits right away and asks the deer if it was properly honored by the hunter. If the answer is no, Little Deer will go to the hunter's house and give him rheumatism.
Every group of animals has a "grandfather" that is the god/chief of each member of this species.

archetypes and functions

  • The Cherokee creation story is interesting in that it starts in medias res, meaning that there is already order at the beginning of the story - we miss the chaos/darkness that may have previously existed.
  • Additionally, humans and animals have already been created when the story begins. Although they are slightly different than in modern times, (the animals are a bit bigger, all living things can communicate, etc.) the general concept is the same.
  • A struggle for power/overthrowing can be seen somewhat in the myth of Selu and her sons. The boys think she is an evil witch, and they believe they must kill her (children overthrowing parents). However, she does not fight back. Additionally, she isn't necessarily "evil" or a monster, like some of the other beings that are overthrown in other myths.
  • loss/separation - seen when the Sun's daughter is not returned to her
  • flood - because of this, the Sun's tears threaten to flood the earth
  • explanation for sin and suffering - In these myths, humans suffer because they tried to throw off the balance in the universe by thinking they were superior beings.
  • trickster figure - possibly Kanati and Selu's sons
  • function of myth - explaining why things are the way they are, explaining the universe

Comparison to other myths

  • mother-daughter relationship and loss - Sun and her daughter compared to Demeter and Persephone
  • gods with strong relations with humans, gods that can both help or harm humans - In Greek mythology, both Demeter and Dionysus were gods that interacted with humans, similar to most of the Cherokee gods/spirits. Additionally, many of the Greek gods, especially Dionysus, could either be helpful or harmful to humans. A similar concept can be seen from the Little People in Cherokee mythology.
Dionysus and Demeter
  • connection to many Native American/indigenous myths - importance of and respect towards nature and all living things, personification of animals

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