Mythologies of The Indigenous Peoples of The Americas

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.

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. 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

Kwakwaka'wakw Cedar sisiutl mask.

Kwakwaka’wakw Cedar sisiutl mask.

A characteristic of many of the myths is the close relationship between human beings and animals (including birds and reptiles). They often feature shape-shifting 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 humor – 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. The sources quoted are available to read online through websites such as archive.org.

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

Coyote, and Opossum appear in the stories of several tribes.

Coyote, and Opossum appear in the stories of several tribes.

Myths from this region feature female deities, such as the creator, Big Turtle; and First Mother, from whose body grew the first corn and tobacco.The two great divine culture heroes are Glooskap and Manabus.

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

Great Plains

Stories unique to the Great Plains feature buffalo, which provided the Plains peoples with food, clothing, housing and utensils. In some myths they are benign, in others fearsome and malevolent. The Sun is an important deity; other supernatural characters include Morning Star and the Thunderbirds.

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. One of the most dominant tricksters of the Plains is Old Man, about whom numerous humorous stories are told. An important supernatural hero is the Blood Clot Boy, transformed from a clot of blood.

Southeastern US

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

See also:

California and Great Basin

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

See also:

  • Kuksu – a religion in Northern California practiced by members within several Indigenous peoples of California.
  • Miwok mythology – a North American tribe in Northern California.
  • Ohlone mythology – a North American tribe in Northern California.
  • Pomo religion – a North American tribe in Northern California.

Southwest

Myths of the NavajoApache, 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 Woman (Huruing Wuhti) and Spider Woman. It was the goddesses who created living creatures and human beings. Other themes include the origin of tobacco and corn, and horses; and a battle between summer and winter. Some stories describe parallel worlds in the sky and underwater.

See also:

  • Ute mythology – a North American tribe located in both the Northwestern and Southwestern United States.
  • Diné Bahaneʼ (Navajo) – a North American nation from the Southwestern United States.
  • Hopi mythology – a North American tribe in Arizona.
  • Zuni mythology – a North American tribe in New Mexico.

Plateau

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. Sacred tricksters here include Coyote and Fox.

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

Arctic (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.

Subarctic (inland northern Canada and Alaska)

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

Northwest

In this region the dominant sacred trickster is Raven, who brought daylight to the world 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. and up in the sky See also:

Aztecs

The Aztecs, who predominantly inhabited modern-day central Mexico, had a complex system of beliefs based on deities who directly affected the lives of humans, including those who controlled rain, the rising Sun and fertility. Voluntary human sacrifice, was a central piece to the order of the universe and human survival. See also:

Central America

  • Maya mythology – an ancient Central American people of southern Mexico and northern Central America.
  • Olmec religion – an ancient Central American people of south-central Mexico, in the present-day states of Veracruz and Tabasco.
  • Purépecha religion – a Central American people centered around Lake Pátzcuaro.

South America

See also

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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