Legends of North America

North America

The Maidu in California, the Algonquins in the Midwest, and the Selish in Canada all carried the concept of a single creative spirit throughout nature. While plants, animals, and other natural phenomena were apparently perceived to be conscious, potentially a source and object of communication, no anthropomorphic gods were identified in their worship. Their beliefs were compatible with scientific models of a self-generating universe where all beings and all nature are considered manifestations of a single creative force. (Gods, Genes, and Consciousness)

The Northwest coast Indians didn't see themselves as descended from the sun. Their chief god was Raven, and all of their gods were essentially totemic. In fact, one thing that especially impressed me about them was their feeling of kinship with the animals that surrounded them. And their art, like their religion, was almost exclusively totem-involved. There was no overriding need to sacrifice victims to some supreme sun-related god. They were this-worldly, believers is the here and now, soft accommodaters to their immediate surroundings, not flint-souled, true believers who subordinated self to the service of a super-god. The dominant characteristic of all Northwest coast art was its supreme craftsmanship. And it was a craftsmanship without pretensions, a theology with the "summit" somehow cut off--animal gods without the sky/war gods Anu, Marduk, and Ashur or the "supreme god."(Gods of the Cataclysm)

I thought if the Southwest kiva culture was Cretan, was associated with Hermes, then Hermes, as person, as myth, as culture hero, would have to play an important part in Hopi/Pueblo life. The first book I picked up on Pueblo culture was written by a learned anthropologist, Hamilton A. Tyler. And he'd already seen the similarity between the Hopi god Masau'u and Hermes. In fact they weren't just similar, they were identical. Masau'u and Hermes, in Hopi and Greek myth, were both guides of dead souls. They both had brought fire to their respective cultures. They both were symbolically related to votive/phallic stone heaps or cairns that served as (in both cases) both shrines and boundary stones. They are both the god of travelers; both are highly phallic and associated with fertility. Both are patrons of thieves, liars, and defrauders; both are "patron-deities" of song, gods of war, snake-gods. Tyler says it: "These points…provide the basis for a rather complete analogy between Masau'u and the Greek god Hermes."(Gods of the Cataclysm)


George Catlin, the artist, when he went on his nineteenth-century Indian visiting trip, sketched a Blackfoot warrior in full horned regalia (above) He has this to say about him: This custom of wearing horns beautifully polished and surmounting the head-dress, is a very curious one, being worn only by the bravest of the brave; by the most extraordinary men of the nation.


One form of the bull-god among the Hopi is a horned Kachina (doll-idol). The various Hu (Zeus?) Kachinas are bull-god variants: Tungwup Ta-amu green-faced Hu Kachina (left); Pachavu Hu Kachina (right). (Gods of the Cataclysm)

This ambiguous, curiously fascinating figure of the trickster appears to have been the chief mythological character of the paleolithic world of story. A fool, and a cruel, lecherous cheat, an epitome of the principle of disorder, he is nevertheless the culture­bringer also. And he appeared under many guises, both animal and human. Among the North American Plains Indians his usual form was Coyote. Among the woodland tribes of the north and east, he was the Great Hare, the Master Rabbit, some of whose deeds were assimilated by the Negroes of America to an African rabbit­trickster whom we know in the folktales of Br'er Rabbit. The tribes of the Northwest Coast knew him as Raven. Blue Jay is another of his forms. In Europe he is known as Reynard the Fox; but also, on a more serious plane, he appears as the devil. (Primitive Mythology)

So that the curious myth...of the young woman whose serpent husband gave fire to their children, is almost certainly a descendant of the same tradition that in the Mediterranean sphere produced the legends of Persephone and Eve. There is, in fact, a great mythological area east of the Rhine, where the myth of the moon brother and sun sister is told. Briefly, the tale is of a young woman who at night was visited by a lover whom she never saw. But one night, determining to learn his identity, she blackened her hands in the coals of the fire before he came and, embracing him, left the imprint on his back. In the morning she saw the marks of her own palms on her brother and, screaming with horror, ran away. She is the sun, he the moon. And he has been pursuing his sister ever since. One can see the hand marks on his back, and when he catches her there is an eclipse. This myth was known to the North American Indians, as well as to the northern Asian tribes, and may indeed be of immense age. (Primitive Mythology)

He gives a fairly comprehensive account of the American-Indian legends about their culture-heroes, who had come to them out of the east, the place of the rising sun. The culture-heroes were white and bearded and they worshipped the sun. (The God-Kings & the Titans)

When De Soto visited the Cherokee in 1540, he found a settled and advanced agricultural society. The smoky river pearls he was given as a welcoming gift had been part of the finery associated with the great Mound Builder cultures of the Mississippi and Ohio regions. Several rituals, such as the Cherokee's sacred ball game, attest to connections between these civilizations and the people who eventually established the Aztec empire, but contact seems to have been broken off before the Aztec era. (Primal Myths)

HOPI The Emergence: "Who are we? Why are we here?" are the questions central to this Hopi myth of emergence, and the answer expressed directly and also implied throughout is to live and be happy by respecting the love of the creater in wisdom and harmony; But the people continually forget this basic religious command, and the myth charts their journey from the beginning through failures to new hope. (Primal Myths)

Originally, there was only Taiowa and the first world of endless space existed in his mind. "Then he, the infinite, conceived the finite," and so creation began. Delineating a dependent and active force within himself, Taiowa created his "nephew" Sotuknang and had him arrange the nine-tiered world. Then Sotuknang formed Spider Woman who, with a mixture of earth, saliva (raw material and a fertilizing agent), and creative wisdom (a forming principle) made twin gods to harden the earth, to animate it with vibration and sound, and finally to guard it at the two poles. After having formed plants, birds, and animals in the same manner, she made the four colors of people in three stages, and the dawn broke, and the sun (Taiowa's symbol) rose to greet its creatures. (Primal Myths)

Only Sotuknang, however, could make people independently creative, and this he did by giving them speech, reproductive power, and the wisdom to use them well. Physically complete, the people's spiritual development was just beginning. In stages appropriate to psychosexual development as well as to cultural and religious development, the people moved from one stage or world to another in a manner imitative of birth. (Just so do the Hopi initiates emerge from the roof of their kivas on the last night of the year when the fires have been extinguished and the new ones are about to be lit. Having listened to the Emergence Story, they climb up the ladder of the kiva into the new world of adulthood and membership into the group.) (Primal Myths)

From the first world of harmony and unity with its sins of attention to differences and consequent warring, to the second world of culture and commerce and its sins of greed and acquisitiveness, and finally through the third world of civilization and technology and its sins of hatred and warfare, the faithful finally emerge to journey northeastward across water (implying a southern Asian origin) to the new, present, fourth world of migrations and final settlement. It is it spiritual odyssey from the worldly back to the world, and signs of sacrality permeate it. The myth eloquently proclaims the holiness of all, the fundamental unity of spirit and matter and the relation of all things through endless correspondences. The four types of life-giving corn, the colors, sounds, plants, animals, minerals, and directions - all resonate with the same holy vibrations as the world itself. Microcosms within macrocosms, the individual's body is to the society what the society is to the world, and all are ordered in the same fashion, dependent on the holy power of the creator. (Primal Myths)

Spider Woman then said to the twin on the left, "You are Palongawhoya and you are to help keep this world in order when life is put upon it. This is your duty now: go about all the world and send out sound so that it may be heard throughout all the land. When this is heard you will also be known as 'Echo,' for all sound echoes the Creator." Palongawhoya, traveling throughout the earth, sounded out his call as he was bidden. All the vibratory centers along the earth's axis from pole to pole resounded his call; the whole earth trembled; the universe quivered in tune. Thus he made the whole world an instrument of sound, and sound an instrument for carrying messages, resounding praise to the Creator of all. "This is your voice, Uncle," Sotuknang said to Taiowa. "Everything is tuned to your sound." Palongawhoya was given the power to keep the air in gentle ordered movement, and instructed to send out his call for good or for warning through the vibratory centers of the earth. (Primal Myths)

THE NOTION THAT the Milky Way is connected to the ultimate abode of the dead is very widespread among native American peoples. Daniel Brinton, referring among others to Algonkin, Creek, and Iroquois ideas about the ocation of the abode of the dead, noted that "the milky way which nightly spans the arch of heaven was in their opinion the road that led thither and was called the path of souls. How strange at first sight does it seem that the Hurons and Iroquois should have told the earliest missionaries that after death the soul must cross a deep and swift river on a bridge formed by a single slender tree most lightly supported, where it had to defend itself against the attacks of a dog? If only they had expressed this belief, it might have passed for a coincidence merely. But the Athapascas (Chippewayans) also told of a great water which the soul must cross in a stone canoe; the Algonkins and Dakotas, of a stream bridged by an enormous snake, or a narrow and precipitous rock. .. With the Aztecs this water was called Chicunoapa, the Nine Rivers. It was guarded by a dog and a green dragon, to conciliate which the dead were furnished with slips of paper by way of toll. The Greenland Eskimos thought that the waters roared through an unfathomable abyss over which there was no other bridge than a wheel slippery with ice, forever revolving with fearful rapidity. (The Secret of the Incas)

…the Ojibwa tradition: The star with the long, wide tail is going to destroy the world some day when it comes low again. That’s the comet called Long-Tailed Heavenly Climbing Star. It came down here once, thousands of years ago. Just like the sun. It had radiation and burning heat in its tail. The comet burned everything to the ground. There wasn’t a thing left. Indian people were here before that happened, living on the earth. But things were wrong; a lot of people had abandoned the spiritual path. The holy spirit warned them a long time before the comet came. Medicine men told everyone to prepare. Things were wrong with nature on the earth … Then that comet went through here. It had a long, wide tail and it burned up everything. It flew so low the tail scorched the earth … The comet made a different world. After that survival was hard work. The weather was colder than before …(Magicians of the Gods)

The Okanagan and the Ute feared any dramatic change in the heavens as an ominous portent of another great flood. The fear that the sun might once again wander or the sky might fall became an obsession. The native people of Washington and Oregon claim that their ancestors arrived in great canoes and disembarked on Mount Baker and Mount Jefferson. They believed that Mount Rainier was the refuge of those who were saved after the wicked of the earth were destroyed in a Great Flood. The Shasta of northern California tell of a time when the sun fell from its normal course. A separate myth relates how Mount Shasta saved their ancestors from the Deluge. On the opposite side of North America lies another great mountain chain, the Appalachians. There, also, tales were told of terrifying solar changes, massive floods, and the survivors of these catastrophes. (Atlantis Beneath the Ice)

A Haida legend tells of a time before the Great Flood when their ancestors lived in a magnificent city in a distant land. The Haida and the Sumerians share a remarkably similar story of their origins. The basic elements of the Haida myth are: Long ago, our ancestors lived in the world's largest village. Life was carefree until the chief of the heavens decided to destroy humankind by changing the sky and bringing a worldwide flood. Survivors escaped in giant canoes, which took them to a new home, where they landed on a mountaintop. A new era began. The basic elements of the Sumerian myth are strikingly similar: Long ago our ancestors lived on the island paradise of Dilmun. Life was carefree until the flood god Enlil decided to destroy humankind by changing the sky and bringing a worldwide flood. Survivors escaped in a large ship which took them to a new home, where they landed upon a mountaintop. A new era began. (Atlantis Beneath the Ice)

The Sumerians’ vocabulary contains hundreds of nautical terms. They also share with the Haida unique stories about amphibious god ancestors with tails. The god Oannes was half man and half fish. During the day Oannes taught the Sumerians how to write and the other arts of civilization before returning to the sea as night fell. (Atlantis Beneath the Ice)

There is a unifying metaphor which argues for a common core of belief across the Eastern Woodlands and Plains, and probably far  beyond that area. That unifying notion is an understanding of the Milky Way as the path on which the souls of the deceased must walk. Indeed, what the evidence suggests is the former existence of “an ancient North American international religion… a common ethnoastronomy … and a common mythology. ...it becomes clear that the fundamental Native North American belief across a vast geographical area, like the fundamental belief of the ancient Egyptians, was in the existence of two souls, one bound to the body and the earth, the other free to ascend to the sky. Exactly the same care and attention paid to two different “souls,” and for the same reasons, also characterized ancient Egyptian mortuary rituals.It seems clear that these separate ancient Egyptian “souls” are essentially identical to, and interchangeable with, Native American notions of the “body-soul” and the “free-soul.” As with the Native Americans, so, too, with the ancient Egyptians—a “leap” by one means or another from the earth-plane to Orion was an essential stage in the afterlife journey. (America Before)

That the precise character of these obstacles should vary between ancient Egypt and ancient Native America is only to be expected. Even so, the striking similarities in the core structure of the “story”—physical death, a journey of the soul on land, a leap to the sky involving Orion followed by a further journey with perils and challenges to be faced, through the valley of the Milky Way—all argue for some as yet unexplained connection. (America Before

As in ancient Egypt, the skeletons of dwarfs have been found in ancient Native American tombs, and as in ancient Egypt, dwarfs were believed to possess superhuman and magical powers. There is even evidence of the existence of dwarf shamans in the Mississippi Valley. Also worthy of note is the appearance and manifestation of souls, and we have seen already how, in ancient Egypt, the free-flying Ba soul was depicted as a bird or as a human-headed bird.  In the case of ancient Native America, the free-soul was likewise very often pictured and spoken of as a bird. (America Before

In the belief systems of many early cultures, the serpent and the sun were strongly connected. Native American oral tradition relates how at one time humans worshipped reptiles but were later compelled to recognize the sun, moon, and other heavenly bodies as the only objects of veneration. It’s said the old gods were secretly entombed in earthworks built to symbolize and represent the heavenly bodies. (Spirits in Stone

The Tewas, Keres, Zunis, and Hopis place importance on spatial divisions and directions, dividing their physical, social, and spiritual worlds into horizontal and vertical dimensions of cosmologies expressed through landscape and agriculture. Multiple levels of social and spiritual meaning are inscribed on the landscape by topographic features and  shrines, and the pueblo itself represents this organization in microcosm. Horizontal divisions correspond to cardinal directions, and vertical divisions include upper and lower world. Nested layers or symmetrical quarters are connected at a center place—the pueblo. The center place is the place of convergence, where six directions (four cardinal directions plus zenith and nadir) join and where symmetrically opposing forces are balanced. They also used elements of the natural topography to dramatic effect. The results were a landscape that was built to be experienced, to express ideas about sacred directions and dualistic balance. Oppositional dualisms such as those between the celestial and the subterranean, the visible and the invisible, and the north and south are represented in Chacoan great houses, great kivas, road alignments, earthworks, and shrines. (Spirits in Stone

The Chacoans constructed buildings, roads, and shrines that express their ideas about the organization of the world. They also used elements of the natural topography to dramatic effect. The results were a landscape that was built to be experienced, to express ideas about sacred directions and dualistic balance. Oppositional dualisms such as those between the celestial and the subterranean, the visible and the invisible, and the north and south are represented in Chacoan great houses, great kivas, road alignments, earthworks, and shrines. The canyon itself was the center place, the function that balanced opposing forces, the intersection of the sacred directions, the axis mundi around which both space and time revolved.  (Spirits in Stone

“These people receive, by right of birth, the underground water directly from their ancestors who are believed to reside within the earth.” Despite different historical periods and phases, the function of several features seen in the southwestern, central, and northeastern United States has remained the same. In Peru and Chile, geometric shapes were used to document the flow of areas of higher permeability, and many of those found in the United States have the same function (Johnson 2009). This suggests ancestral Native Americans were using the same basic concepts to map the locations of areas of higher permeability throughout the Western Hemisphere with structures and stone features. The similarity between various stone features strongly suggests some degree of cultural uniformity existed throughout most, if not all, of the Western Hemisphere.  (Spirits in Stone

Our data strongly suggest that ancestral Native Americans were mapping areas of higher permeability within the groundwater with structures and stone features in order to establish a vertical alignment between the three worlds within their concept of the sacred stone landscape and Mother Earth.  Our data consistently indicate that stone features and petroglyphs and pictographs are located along concentrated flows.  (Spirits in Stone

The chief ... said that we should remember to factor in the water when considering these sites. He said all the sites’ memories are in the water that runs through the site. The water holds and keeps the knowledge. He said where the stones line up with the stars, water holds a message.  (Spirits in Stone

During the open discussion, while viewing sky events simulated in the planetarium, the Canadian chief spoke up strongly when, while visually traveling back in time during the course of the year, both the full moon and the Pleiades star cluster were high overhead, both near their zenith at the same time. He pointed out that this was an important sky event in the tribal belief system and traditions, due to the moon and the Pleiades sharing the same place in the sky, at the same time as the other; in conjunction.  (Spirits in Stone

The Paiute Indians have a legend about their ancestors and red-haired giants. These giants, known as the Sille-Cah, were a red-haired tribe of cannibals who lived near the Paiutes, often harassed them with constant war and occasionally captured victims to eat. Eventually the various Paiute groups had had enough and decided to band together to eradicate the Si Te-Cah (translated as "tule eaters"). Legend has it that the Paiutes cornered the giants and forced them underground, into a cave system, piled brush over the entrance, and set it on fire with flaming arrows, extinguishing the SirTe-Cah for good. (The Giants Who Ruled America)

Many of the bodies that have been exhumed from mounds across the€ country show signs that they were ritually burned before being covered in layers of dirt and ash. In other bodies from mounds, notes Haywood, evidence of decapitation and flaying have also been found.   (The Giants Who Ruled America)