Native American Mythology
MHS Enduring Mythology Online Course, by Antonia McNaught
Published on: Mar 3, 2016
Transcripts - Native American Mythology
By Antonia McNaught
• 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.
A vast majority of the Native American myths have a higher power in charge, a powerful
In many Native American myths Father Sky and Mother Earth or Mother corn are the
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.
• The Totem Pole is an arrangement of symbols, usually an
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.
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
Owl - The owl is a very respected animal and is thought to symbolize the souls of the departed.
“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
• “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
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.
• This is a clip of the Native American flute:
• 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
Major Gods, Goddesses
• 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
• 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.
"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.
• "Native American Gods and Goddesses." HubPages. HubPages, n.d. Web. 23
Oct. 2013. <http://hubpages.com/hub/Native-American-Gods-and-Goddesses>.
• "Native American Symbols - Home." Native American Symbols. N.p., n.d. Web.
23 Oct. 2013. <http://nativeamericansymbols.weebly.co
• "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. <http://www.gullitotempoles.com>.