Native American Mythology
There were many Native American tribes in North America, and each one had various myths. Most tribes had myths that involved the creation of the world, as well as numerous heroes and deities. Most of these stories were passed down orally, as Native Americans did not use written languages. Sometimes stories were entrusted with special storytellers whose job it was to pass down legends from the past.
Although Native American myths differed widely, there are certain things that most of them had in common. Most Native American myths and stories involved a creator. This creator was sometimes referred to as the Great Creator or Great Spirit. There were other spirits who were the personification of natural elements, such as the sun, rain, or the sky. For people who depended on agriculture to survive, elements such as the sun and the rain were very important, so it makes sense that they might be seen as deities.
Many tribes also had beliefs and stories about the creation of the world. Many Native American creation myths tell of the earth being covered by a massive sea. A sea creature—usually a large turtle—dove to the bottom of the sea and returned with a lump of mud which, in time, became the Earth. Other creation stories involve a deity who descends from the sky.
A number of myths also involve a person known as a “trickster.” In these stories, the trickster is usually a mischievous person or animal who is small or weak, but makes up for the weakness through cunning. In other words, tricksters are characters who succeed by using their wits. Tricksters sometimes did good things, and sometimes they caused problems and did wicked things. Often tricksters were people or animals who deliberately tried to spread as much confusion as possible.
Animals often had special roles in the myths of Native Americans. In many cases, animals help humans in some way, sometimes granting them special qualities, such as courage, or special favors. The Plains Indians, for example, had a number of stories that involved the buffalo. The buffalo was an essential part of life for the Plains Indians. They hunted it not only for its meat, but for its skin and bones as well. They used virtually every part of the buffalo, so it was obviously very important to their culture.
Some Facts About Native American Myths:
- By the time Americans and Europeans began recording Native American myths, much of their culture had been thrown into chaos and many stories had already been lost.
- Although beliefs varied between tribes, most Native Americans believed that all living things—humans, animals, and plants—were all bound together and all equally important.