Native Mythology to North America
The Native American Mythologies are myths of lessons that every man can apply in his daily life. Many have misconceptions that Native American mythologies are just stories that are capable of entertaining the listeners. Once a person heard of a Native American myth, he can conclude that they are not just simply stories. Instead, they are able to serve us guidance and inspiration, brought by old cultures and traditions, which present teachings and lessons applicable to the diverse situations we encounter in life.
Native American Mythology depicts legends and mysteries in the history of the past. Usually, they are used as references pertaining to the correct practice of values in life. Since the history of mythology, the subject of life mysteries is prevalent in Native American mythologies. Myths present circumstances in life that may occur every now and then in the daily challenges we face – events that we can relate to once they happened to us. Should a person is about to perform duties that may pertain with similarities to the act of acknowledging responsibilities, as the deities of the old times, we may find similar struggles from the Native American myths. From there, we can deduce the teachings and values the deities have applied.
Myths, in its history, reveal the faith of the Native Americans. The importance and significance of mythology is not in the unexplainable stories that make them astonishing. The teachings it provides, hidden from the characters that are imaginary, as we may say, make us understand the mysteries of life. The enduring power of the myths makes us relate to the different dimensions in the world, not to make us live in its mysteries, but to present us with ways of how to relate with our present natural world. One literature on myths states the following aspects of mythology.
If [the characters of the myth] act like people, then events are less foreign, thus making them easier to relate to other people (Analyzing Mythology). Perhaps they can then negotiate with the world as they see the world negotiate with them. They foster this shared set of perspectives, and values.
The approach of almost all Native American mythologies is to present supernatural beings or mystical world where people fight to survive in the tests of life. Legends and stories tell us of profound imaginary characters, such as animals with human characteristics, or spirits that guide people. These representations are the tools of the Native Americans in implying to us the meaning of life. From which, we can derive the moral values of the stories through the philosophical symbols the Native Americans mythologize.
Although most part of the Native American mythologies concerns deities, the myths do not intend to make us practice the same beliefs. While it was accounted in the history of Native Americans, especially the Indians, that honoring deities and offering ceremonies to them are parts of their daily living, there is already a difference on how the current generation interpret the native mythologies. Mostly, in our intellectual capabilities influenced by the vast developments in technology, the deities of Native American mythologies are now interpreted as symbolisms of the common components in life and environment that we encounter everyday. Despite of this, no matter how diverse of interpretations may exists, the true value of Native American mythologies still lives and are comprehensible to many of us – that mythologies provide us with moral values that can nurture and develop our outlooks in life.
As deities are significant element of most Native American mythologies, the interpretation for its use in myths may vary and may depend on the generation of the interpreter. One literature suggests an interpretation of deities as For example, Albert Eistein would be the god of intellect and imagination, and another person may include Bill Gates as the god of computing. Myths offer these role models to children who pattern themselves after heroes, with archetypical characteristics, like Superman or Wonder Woman, in today’s society.
Perhaps, one reason why the Native Americans created myths is to preserve their culture, traditions, and beliefs. In simple words, myths preserve their identities. Through myths, the Native Americans were able to communicate with the natural world, the animals, and the spirits. They were able to establish their identities in myths that help us learn part of their cultures. Through myths, we were able to obtain ideas of the past of the Native Americans.
Our Native American ancestors lived their lives in values that have strength, courage, and wisdom. This is how we see them in the myths. With the help of the deities and the guardian spirits, myths are able to impart us the teachings of the Native Americans. The continuity of conveying the lessons of myths is made possible by passing the stories from one generation to another through storytelling. However, as time goes by, the originality of myths somehow vanishes, with one or two changes every time they are told. But the essential thing is that the values embedded in mythologies remain. From an essay on Native American Mythology, one storyteller suggests that If you retell [a tale], please remember, many of these begin or end in a certain way. Try to keep them as they are. That way, generations from now, many people can enjoy the same legend that you do.
Characteristics of Native American Mythologies
The mythology of North America brings to us the legends of the past. Its myths encompasses not only of the people of old times, but of the beautiful and mesmerizing natures that includes mountains, rivers and lakes, deserts, and valleys and plains. The natives of North America consider these natural wonders as sacred elements of life. Hence, it is undeniably apparent that they were the themes of many mythological stories.
Another important part of Native American mythology is the animal. Aside from the natures and lands, many of the Native American tales and legends depict animals as a component of stories. Giving life to the characters of animals, they are represented to have human characteristics, sometimes in a magical form. They are endowed with special powers and are able to communicate with human beings. An example of an animal that was used in Native American mythology is the wolf. Old tribes consider the wolf as an animal with strong and inspiring strength. Because of its good hunting ability, they identify the wolf as their guidance. Often, wolves are believed to be the mediums of special spirits who bestow the wolves with power. One myth depicted the wolf as the creator of earth. From The Role of Fox, Lynx, and Wolf in Mythology, Astrid Wallner tells the following myth.
According to the Ute, a tribe from the Rocky Mountain area of Colorado, the wolf played a major role in how the people came to the earth. The wolf had carried a heavy bag on his back and therefore could only move very slowly. After a while the bag became so heavy, he hardly could walk any further and decided to lay down.
While doing so, the bag burst and all the people poured out and went to the different places on earth (L ng 1989).
However, not all Native American mythologies illustrate the wolves favorably. Sometimes, wolves are suggested to be evil. An instance of which is the myth of Navajo. In the story, wolves were believed to be witches pretending to be wolves (Wallner, 1998).
Other special creations of God such as the earth and the sky are forenamed with human identities in native North American mythology. The earth is recognized as Mother Earth, while the sky is termed as Father Sky.
Long time ago, Native American myths were created to entertain people. However, the proper context of the tales and legends of Native American myths impart teachings that bring lessons in life. They are today’s traditional but classic forms of literature and stories handed down from one generation to another. For many writers and those who work in the field of mythic, Native American myths are the evidence of our ancestors’ cultures. They are the living remnants of the Native Americans.
Native American myths embrace traditions, cultures, and beliefs in its stories. Most of the daily practices and customs of Native Americans became the building blocks of the myths that were handed down to us today. Even their religions, which they consider a very sacred element of every man’s life, are exemplified in the Native American mythologies. Mythologies and religions of Native Americans are somehow closely related. The natural objects such as the mountains, as embedded in mythologies to be sacred, are used in real life as settings of rituals and ceremonies in prayer to gods and goddesses.
Originating from the religious cultures of the Native Americans, the prevalence of spirits was born in mythologies. Most believed in the supremacy of Great Spirit as the creator of the world (Oaklamia, 2003). This deity was given with many names such as Amotken and Gitche Manitou, and was surrounded by other gods and goddesses (Oaklamia, 2003). In contrast to what Christians and Catholics believe that the first man and woman were Adam and Eve and were created by God, the myths of Native Americans have diverse ideas on origin of the earth, as well as the origin of the first man and woman. Some people believe that the earth came from the mud brought back by a person who dived in the ocean. Others, on the other hand, say that the earth is on the back of a giant turtle (Oaklamia, 2003). The first man and woman were said to came from a cave, or that they were brought on earth by a hero to assess them on how they can manage the earth.
In the myths that we have inherited from the Native Americans, spirits were sometimes represented as guardians to humans. Some myths suggest that every person is taken cared of and guided by a spirit. The spirits are said to make contact with a person during his puberty. Through prayers and fasting in a remote place, the person will be able to see his guardian spirit in the form of an animal. In most myths, the animal is a bird.
Another aspect in the spiritual element of the Native American myths is the recognition of the Four Directions. This is taken either literally or symbolically. It was believed that a balanced Four Directions makes things well. From the Native American Myths, balancing Four Directions is further defined as follows.
The Four Directions have to be in balance for all to be well with the world, and often a central point of balance is identified as a fifth direction; for example, four brothers represent the outer directions, and their sister the centre.
Brief Overview of the Native American Myths
Many of our Native American myths today have been in the American arts and literature for centuries and decades now. To name a few, some of these myths are the Lakota Creation, the White Buffalo Woman, Coyote Steals the Sun and the Moon, and the Navajo Emergence. The stories of these myths have served teachings and guidance in life, not only for the people of the past, but to every generation with which they were handed down. To provide an idea on the magic of Native American myths, and how they were able to capture the senses of the Native Americans, following is a brief overview of some of the popular Native American Myths.
This myth illustrates the creation of the universe. The myth tells that Maka (the earth) was created by Inyan (the rock). Upon creation, the waters was created out of Inyan’s blood. The Skan (sky) was also created. Because it was dark, Maka appealed for the creation of light. Anp (the red light) was first created, followed by Wi (the sun). (Eddy, Steve. Native American Myths in Brief)
The White Buffalo Woman
This myth tells of a woman who came in a place where two braves were hunting. One of the braves wants to be the first one to approach the woman. He warns the other to stay out of his way. Once the foolish brave came to the woman, he turned into a pile of bones with a snake. The woman then went to the town of the brave. She handed the people of the town with a sacred pipe and showed them the sacred ceremony. When she was leaving the town, she turned into a buffalo, changing colors from red, into brown, into white, then into black. (Eddy, Steve. Native American Myths in Brief)
This myth represents a lesson in life – the bad attitude of greediness that was demonstrated by the brave who turned into bones. Some says that the white buffalo represents the Virgin Mary.
Coyote Steals the Sun and the Moon
This myth depicts a team-up of the coyote and eagle in hunting. However, their hunting was not successful. The coyote blames the lack of light. So, the two came to a village where two boxes of lights are kept – the sun and the moon. The coyote wants to steal the boxes. However, the eagle just wants to borrow them. After they got the boxes, the coyote, being stubborn, opened the boxes and the sun and the moon escaped, which created winter. (Eddy, Steve. Native American Myths in Brief)
This story presents a lesson about typical human qualities who creates improvement in civilization. However, in the midst of his goal, deception comes along his way.
Changing Woman – Navajo
This myth tells of the story about Changing Woman who is the goddess of the present times. Changing woman bore two sons who asked for powers from their father to get rid of the bad elements in the world. Sooner, the two sons persuaded their mother to transfer to a place where they can live a good life and practice their power – the West. However, later, the place was threatened by war. (Eddy, Steve. Native American Myths in Brief)
This is a story of the goddess of Navajo who gives fortune to the place.
Stone Boy – Brule Sioux
This myth depicts the story of a girl and her five brothers who hunt for food. While hunting, the five brothers got lost one by one. The girl, being left alone, killed herself by swallowing pebbles. However, she did not die and woke up about to give birth to a child. Stone Boy, the child, grew up and saves his lost uncles from a wicked old woman. (Eddy, Steve. Native American Myths in Brief)
This story represents the balancing of the Four Directions – represented by the four uncles. The old woman symbolizes a bad element, which when killed restores the Four Directions. The girl in the story may symbolize the center of the Four Directions.
The Mythical Characters
Myths are made alive because of the mythical characters that depict different roles and duties in the struggle of Native Americans in the past. Without the mythical characters, the meaning and value of myths will only live as entertaining stories. They are essential components of the myths where nature, God, and man are represented as communicating aspects in the creation and improvement of the world.
Following are a few of the mythical characters known in the Native American Mythology.
Native North American Gods
Anguta is the gatherer of the dead (God, Heroes, and Myth. 2000). He takes the dead in the underworld and stays with him for one year.
Aningan is the moon and the brother of sun. Together with his cousin, he lives in an igloo in the sky.
Asgaya Gigagei (Cherokee)
Asgaya Gigagei has the power of curing the ill. Depending on the gender of the patient, Asgaya Gigagei can either be a male or a female.
Atira is the earth and the mother of all living creature (God, Heroes, and Myth. 2000).
Big Heads (Iroquois) giant-headed demon with no body flying in the midst of storms (God, Heroes, and Myth. 2000).
Coyote (Southwestern Indians, but known in other areas as well) trickster/clown who always roam around causing troubles (God, Heroes, and Myth. 2000). However, Coyote is considered as a teacher from which we learn lessons in life.
Kitcki Manitou (Algonquin)
The supreme of all, the Great Spirit that is prevalent in every Native American mythology; known as the Father of Life (God, Heroes, and Myth. 2000).
Sedna (Inuit/Eskimo) one-eyed giant and the Goddess of all creatures in the sea. Sedna was thrown into the sea by his father as a sacrifice. Coming to her would entail a number of battle against death (God, Heroes, and Myth. 2000).
Hino is the god of the sky. Also known as the Thunder God. By his fire of lightnings, he is able to destroy evils (God, Heroes, and Myth. 2000).
Native American Animal Symbols
From the Gods, Heroes, and Myth, following is a list of some of the animal symbols prevalent in Native American Mythology.
The bear is the protector and symoblizes physical strength and leadership.
Sometimes considered an omen that bad things could happen. Is also considered a trickster.
Symbolizes speed and family protection.
He is often considered a messenger
Often considered the protector, carrier of prayers, visions & spirits.
Symbolizes renewal, fertility & springtime
Symbolizes devotion, permanence and eternity. This is a strong symbol in disguise because although the hummingbird is small in stature, it is extremely determined in it’s own territory.
The owl is a very respected animal and is thought to symbolize the souls of the departed. They are connected with darkness and night and are considered a bad omen.
Symbolizes scrutiny and attention to detail.
Parrots are considered bringers of specific prayers and could bestow blessings.
Symbolizes fear and overcoming limiting beliefs.
The snake is usually seen in healing and fertility rites. He is often considered a hunter.
This is a very powerful symbol for women. It symbolizes fertility, long life, and perseverance. It is sometimes even considered able to defy death.
The wolf is the teacher of new ideas and wisdom. It shows intense loyalty with a balance of independence.
The Native American Mythologies in the Current Literature
As it was in the past, the significance of the Native American mythologies is kept alive in the present times. From the deities, symbolized animals, tricksters, and to the sacred mountains, the Native Americans continuously imparts every generation with moral values that guide and inspires us in our everyday lives.
The cultural history of the Native Americans demonstrated its richness in the mythologies. Their method of using symbolisms and supernatural worlds still mesmerizes and captures the heart of many readers of today. Truly, the Native Americans have displayed their great intellect and artistry in their mythologies. Their stories are still among the best and most creative in the literature of today – the legend of all literature.
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