Mythologies Of Native American

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In the United States there are more than 700 indigenous tribes. With there being so many various tribes in the United States alone there must be a large diversity when it comes to religious traditions, practices and teachings. When it comes to the Native American Religion myths seem to play a very important role. Myths can give life lessons as well as explain origin stories of how things came to be. While not all tribes are the same and not all tribes have similar myths, they still serve a significant purpose.

A myth is “a traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people or explaining some natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events” (“myth” def.). Native American mythologies were used to teach the Natives about how one should live suitably in this word, how to live considerately with one another, how to live off the land as well as understanding the meaning of life.

In the Native American religion animals seem to play a crucial role in many myths. For example, the Cherokee believe that a water beetle or a turtle was responsible for forming the lands because they brought back mud from the depths of a flooded world, which other animals, such as the “Great Buzzard” and serpents, used to shape the mountains, valleys, and rivers of the Cherokee country (Aftandilian 191). Mythologies like these are an illustration of the position of animals’ relativity to the Native Americans. The Creek tribe believe that animals are much more powerful than humans because they “lived in the world before we did and therefore have more practical and spiritual knowledge than humans do… and humans are weaker because [they] appeared last on the cosmological scene” (Aftandilian 191). The Creek tribe also believe that animals are capable of crossing between the different cosmological realms making animals superior. Because of this difference in power it is why the Native Americans believe it is important to treat Animals with kindness and respect and it is why many Native Americans use animals in myths.

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Many mythologies often contain a character known as the “trickster”. The trickster often experiences and engages in all types of mischief which in result the trickster must face their consequences and ultimately learn a lesson about proper social behavior. A common example of this would be the myth from the Pima tribe about the Coyote and the Bluebird. According to the myth long ago the bluebird was an unattractive color but one day the bird decided to take a bath in a “special” blue lake every morning for four days. The bird soon grew these beautiful blue feathers. The coyote spotted the blue bird and mesmerized by his colors asked the bird how he obtained such a color. The bird then explained to the coyote his method which he then followed. After obtaining the color the coyote was so pleased with himself he began strutting and acting arrogantly making sure that all the other animals saw his color. Not paying attention the coyote tripped and fell into the dirt and when he arose he was no longer blue but instead the color of the dirt (Brodd 38). Not only does this myth explain how the bluebird and the coyote obtained their colors it is also an example of the dangers of arrogance. While there is no shame in being proud of oneself, pride is not arrogance. Like the coyote when one lets arrogance take control it can lead to severe consequences. Rather than “engaging in behaviors intended to exaggerate a person’s sense of superiority by disparaging others” (“arrogant” def.) it is best to remain humble like the bluebird.

While in many stories and myths the coyote is a character who is often viewed as deceitful, cunning, and cruel there are some in which the coyote is viewed as the hero. According to the Handbook of Native American Mythology the mythologies of several tribes reveal that the “coyote brought the first fire, arranged the seasons, introduced salmon and taught how to catch and cook it, introduced work and suffering, taught how to make bows and arrows and introduced death to prevent overpopulation” (Bastian and Mitchell 77).

The coyote is a very common character depicted in many myths across many different tribes. At times he is described as an animal where in others he is often portrayed as a man. Like the coyote there are several different animals who appear in many myths across many tribes such as the buffalo, the wolf, the horse, the owl, the salmon, and the bear. While animals are a very important aspect of the Native American Religion there are also myths which contain humans, gods and goddesses as opposed to animals. A popular myth which portrays a goddess would be The Corn Woman. According to the myth the corn woman would rub her body to produce food. One day her son and his friend witnessed this and assumed she was practicing witchcraft and decided to murder her. She was subjected to betrayal by her own son and his companion and after the attack she instructed the two boys to drag her body over the ground and where she bled corn grew (Brodd 38). This myth teaches about the relationship between life and death. It teaches that from the death of the corn woman she was able to bring a newfound life for others with supplying a bountiful harvest of corn in which provides sustenance for the living.

In the Native American religion myths seem to serve a very important role in the many teachings and traditions of the many tribes. While not all the tribes have similar myths it seems as is if they are able to utilize the myths as an important tool to teach the Natives about how one should live suitably in this word, how to live considerately with one another, how to live off the land as well as understanding the meaning of life.

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