Written by Douglas Mefford in Society
Viewed by 28 readers since 05-16-2009
Without a written tradition, the tribes of the Native Americans took on a very diverse mythology that was distinctly unique to each group of people. There were, however, many traits of these beliefs that maintained similar aspects regardless of the distances and cultures separating them. Native American culture, lifestyle and religion were inseparable and the stories of the gods were intimately intertwined with the way the people of any particular tribe lived their day to day lives. Be they stories of the gods, heroes or even revered ancestors, the element of spirituality was always at the core of the Native American’s life.
The Lakota tribes of the area that would become the far northern parts of the United States in the region of the Dakotas summed up this over-spirit as Wakan Tanka. It is this god form that has been translated to our language and culture as “The Great Spirit”. It referred to the sacredness of all things within creation from the tiniest insect to the vastness of the stars in the night sky. While not given a specific name, it is this force that the Cherokee and Huron felt created the world and all that lives in it from the original all-covering water.
Animals play a great part in Native American god-lore. The “trickster” gods existed in all the tribes’ stories. Whether this cunning deceiver took the form of rabbit, coyote, raven or crow, it was used to exemplify the universal theme of duplicity within human nature. While the trickster was eternally attempting to gain advantage over others with his tricks, more often than not, this would backfire and end up creating some beneficial thing for humans. Trickster plays a great role in most of the creation myths and is responsible for placing the moon and stars, the sun, and often the prey animals that allowed the tribe sustenance.
The best known of the Native American gods in modern culture comes from the area of the American Southwest. Among the Navajo, Hopi and Zuni are such colorful god figures as Kokapeli, the flute-playing god who caused the corn to grow. Changing Woman of the Navajo people is much more than just a fertility goddess. It was she who gave birth to the twins, Monster Slayer and Water Child. These two entities were instrumental in ridding the new world of the Navajo of a great many evil things.
Maze has always been a staple food of the Native American tribes and many of their gods in one form or the other and with many names all equate to the Corn Mother. This is both fertility spirit and exemplification of the fecund power of the Mother Earth to care for and feed her human children.
Integral to the Hopi is the concept of the Kachinas. These are at the same time, the spirits of the ancestors as well as the spirit of the gods which once dwelt on the earth with the people and that will come again one day to reclaim their place on the earth. It is through the kachinas that the forces of the gods move through from the spirit level to the material world.